I wrote some time back about how I gave up my longtime habit of reading a newspaper made of paper after a long history of that being one of my favorite pastimes. Oops, I guess I only wrote about how much I enjoy them but failed to follow up when I finally stopped taking my local paper. After going cold turkey for about a year I have accepted one of their come-on deals to become a digital subscriber – which allows me to read the printed version on my screen. The biggest benefit? Obituaries.
We have all heard the old joke that “I get up in the morning and read the obituaries. If my name isn’t there it’s a good day.” I do read the obits every day but for different reasons. (If I can smell my coffee I already know my name isn’t there.)
First off, a scanning eye beats multiple mouse clicks every time. A quick scan will allow me to skim over names of family or whether they belong to a familiar church. The online version gave me a name, a picture and part of an opening paragraph but that was it. Add in the excruciating slowness of the newspaper’s website and it was clear that finding out more information came at a great cost of time and frustration.
One obvious benefit is looking for familiar names. Or relatives of those I have known. As I have gotten older I see names of people who were once in my orbit but have fallen out of touch, either personally or professionally. I learned of the death of some elderly neighbors this way, which allowed me to pay respects to their families.
Recently I saw the obit of the widow of the judge who presided over my first jury trial. I never would have made the connection without reading the whole piece. And I would never have known that one woman was the mother of a lady I know casually at church. Only by seeing the daughter’s married name did I make the connection.
An good obituary is like a little story, a window into how people lived and died. We learn about where a person grew up, a short description of family relationships and sometimes the cause of death, or at least a medical issue important enough to be the destination for memorial contributions. And we can learn what was important to them.
A big change came when obits stopped being written by the newspaper. For the last several years a teeny notice is free but anything longer is on the dime of the beloved. Reading the printed obit online is the best of both worlds – it allows me to click through to the “full obituary” that sometimes appears on a funeral home’s website in cases where the family declines to pay the publisher’s tax. And some of these folks know how to write a story.
It is interesting to try and figure out who wrote an obit. You can often tell by what is emphasized. Was there an emphasis on awards and achievements during life? Or is the focus on how the person’s life influenced and affected the lives of those nearby?
I wish I had cut out the obit I saw several years ago that was nearly an entire page in the paper. The writer(s) went into excruciating detail about the deceased’s accomplishments. No honor or award seemed too insignificant to include. Would you want to know the many awards this octogenarian had racked up in college many decades ago? This obit took care of that. I wanted to move on but something compelled me to continue, tedious as it was. This one had all of the earmarks of a person with a particularly swollen head. Of course it was possible that he left a family that was extremely proud of all he had done. Obituaries are best read with a charitable heart.
And there is the matter of where things go from there. Some folks’ obits exhibit a strong religious faith, others make plain that they had no space in their lives for such foolishness. It occurs to me that whatever their former opinion, they now know the answer – just what, exactly, awaits them. I always hope it is something good. Or at least not something bad.
As for me, I do not intend to write my own obituary. I will be content to let others rattle off the basics and to then include what they think readers should know about my life. Or maybe I should provide a skeleton outline to save family the effort of getting started (which we all know is the hardest part of writing something).
In either case I will not need to read it – I was there and saw it all live. And on that day when I do not smell the morning coffee, my hope is that the next step is something good. Or at least not something bad.
Photo source: Pixabay, free use