Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Obits

My mom reads three different newspapers every day.  Most of them repeat the same news stories, but each of them caters to their local readers in different ways.  For my mom, a longtime obituary reader and at the mean age for that page, it is how she starts her day.

When I was a young girl, I remember her hunched over the kitchen table and spread out newspaper shaking her head over news of the death of a stranger.  Aloud to no one she would say, "Thirty five and three kids.  Good Lord."

I have followed in her footsteps  Often I give the obit page a quick skim, but when time permits I linger over the Cliff note, published version of a lifetime story.

There have been a couple over the years that I have torn out and saved.  The one where a poem of the deceased was featured.

"But I am moving west along this superhighway, not to return.  I am following my fathers.  I have left nothing behind - no people, no possessions, no regrets.  In the old stories, the souls of the dying it was thought, vanished into the west.  I've always liked the sound of that."

Or the English teacher.......

"She admired a well-constructed sentence, a strong character arc and a clever mystery twist: she would put her book down when it was time for Jeopardy or The Colbert Report."

Sometimes obituaries go viral like this one.

"Those who've taken her lessons to heart will continue to ensure that a cold drink will be left for the overheated garbage collector and mail carrier, every baby will be kissed, every nursing home resident will be visited, the hungry will have a sandwich, the guest will have a warm bed and soft nightlight, and the encroaching possum will know the soothing sensation of a barbecue brush upon its back."

Or this............

"I believe we are each of us connected to every person and everything on this Earth, that we are in fact one divine organism having an infinite spiritual existence. Of course, we may not always comprehend that. And really, that's a discussion for another time. So let's cut to the chase: 

I was given the gift of life, and now I have to give it back. This is hard. But I was a lucky woman, who led a lucky existence, and for this I am grateful."
After our friend, Vicki, died, some of us were discussing her funeral a few weeks later.  How it was so utterly perfect Vicki.  "I came home and started a death file," one of my friends said.  "I want written directions that my family will have so they know everything I want."  We all nodded and maybe we weren't ready to start our own file, but we were certainly thinking about it.

The Catholics have put hard and firm brakes on eulogies during the mass.  They have found them disruptive to the service, but seeing as how death is the ultimate disruptive event I'm not buying that argument.  For who better than family and dear friends to tell a church full of mourners that one story that makes everyone smile through their tears and grateful to be among the heartbroken living?

There are some of us who will always start our day reading about the end of strangers' lives.  In the course of that habit one is bound to come across that brief funny/sweet/poignant/loving story in black and white of a life gone too soon.

Moving west ahead of the pack until our own name appears on that page.

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