I’ve always read the obituaries, ever since I was a little girl. Some people think it’s morbid, but I don’t.
It’s not so much about looking for people I know, though there’s an element of that, of course. It’s mostly about gleaning what I can from the encapsulation of a person’s life in such a small block of text. It’s about pondering the questions that emerge from the gleaning.
For instance: “Dad is survived by his wife, his nine children, his 26 grandchildren, his nine great-grandchildren, and the many women in his life that he loved and cared for.”
That intrigues me.
Or sometimes there’s an idea for a story. A few days ago I read an obituary for a woman who had eight daughters and no sons, which left me thinking about the various ways that could have played out, depending on the personalities involved. Did she and her husband end up with so many kids because they kept trying “one last time” for a son? Were the births of their daughters met with joy, or with disappointment? Was it a big happy bubbly girl family, or a simmering stew of resentment?
Occasionally an obituary will betray dysfunctional family dynamics: “He will be sadly missed by his loving step-sons, Mark and Andrew. Also leaves a son.”
Sometimes I read about a person and wish I’d known them. “He passionately taught his children and grandchildren about everything from attire to fishing lures, and instilled in them his life-long values of integrity, humility, acceptance, and caring.”
I like obits that go beyond the basics, and include a few quirks or qualities about the person. “Don rejoiced at the invention of the Post-it Note and carried with him at all times his Letts Diary, including a fold-out list of past events – some four decades’ worth – in 6 point font.”
Lately it has become the standard to include a photograph of the person in the obituary. I wonder who chooses the photographs. Family members? Or the dying person? And why do they so often choose a photo taken when they were much younger? A few days ago there was a picture of a young woman of perhaps 20, accompanying the obituary of a 93-year-old great-great-grandmother. Is it because she wanted to be remembered as young and attractive? Or is it because she doesn’t really feel like that old person she became?
Sometimes something just strikes me as funny. Like last week when I read the obituary of a woman who had been predeceased by her husband, Harold Assman. Harry Assman! Ha ha ha ha ha.
(I shouldn’t laugh. Death isn’t funny.)
Anyway. Does anybody else out there love the obituaries?