The comics and obituaries are in color on Sundays. I read both.
Actually, I read the obituaries every day. (There is the old George Burns joke: “…and if I don’t see my name there, I get out of bed.”) Marvin Siegel wrote “The Last Word: The New York Times Book of Obituaries and Farewells: A Celebration of Unusual Lives”. This compilation of 100 of the most colorful, entertaining, and touching obits printed in The New York Times deliberately omits celebrities, concentrating instead on an ‘eclectic mix of lesser-known men and women whose compelling lives have often changed the world they lived in.”
Reading obituaries may sound morbid. Maybe it is, but I find many things of interest there.
First, I am always surprised when I read a name I have never heard before. You’d think by this time in my life I would have heard them all. Second, a few are quite entertaining, probably not unlike the people being written about: witty, tongue-in-cheek, light-hearted. Third, some make me sad, usually because the photograph of the dearly departed is out of focus, or old and out of sync with the times, but – I think to myself with some heart tug – that is the best photo there is of that loved one. Yes, that makes me sad for some reason.
Most of us lead ordinary lives. We are unique…just like everyone else…but I doubt we would think our names would appear in a book like “The Last Word”. Yet almost every obituary written comes from love and loss: the person being written about lived a life that was compelling to family and friends, that inner circle of mates one goes through life with. These are lives that did change a close-knit world, affecting those around them.
Several years ago, while contemplating the death of a friend, I thought about who would write my obituary, what they would say. Would it be terse and perfunctory, would it present me as I would want to be remembered, would it be heartfelt, would it be written out of duty? The truth is – no matter what is or isn’t written – I’ll be fine with it!
Hopefully, we come to a place where we are living the most meaningful life we know how. All the rough edges have been “lived off” and we are a smooth and burnished piece of work. Fences have been mended, forgiveness given and accepted, resentments and anger put into perspective, love given fiercely and freely. Hopefully, before we die, we have learned how to live.
September 28, 2017 is my 72nd birthday. I’ll read the obits and, if I don’t see my name, I’ll get out of bed.