One of my daily rituals is reading the obituaries in our morning newspaper. Ok, I realize I just morphed into an obsolete dinosaur in your eyes. “Really? She reads an actual newspaper? And never misses the obituaries?!” But, I’m here to tell you that many of the day’s obits can be a bright spot in an otherwise horrid news landscape. Who wants to read more about Harvey – the hurricane or the sex offender? Who has time for more political shenanigans involving Russians, Republicans, North Koreans, Democrats or He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named? So, I just skip right past the front page and even the sports page and head straight to the business section. Isn’t that ironic? The obituaries, or “Life Tributes” as they’re called in our paper, are at the back of the business section. Makes perfect sense if you think about it. The business of life includes marching onward to the inevitable, death. I like to think that reading the obituaries makes me a better person. Every morning I’m reminded of the fact that our time here on this good earth is fleeting and we’d best make the most of it lest we have a really short two- or three-line obituary. Seriously, reading the obituaries makes me want to try harder to be a more loving wife, mother, aunt, sister, friend, to contribute more to my community and those around me in need. I love reading about the 90+-year olds who have died; some of them have been married to “the love of his/her life” for over 60 years! How hopeful! Some ladies, life-long homemakers, are described as “behind the scene chief of staff” or “entertainer-in-chief” and it’s often mentioned that her greatest accomplishment was raising her children. That makes me feel good, too, especially since my husband has taken to answering for me, on the countless times I’m asked – “And, what do you DO all day?” “She manages the household and is an essayist,” he says, albeit with a chuckle.
Obituary writers follow a common template. They begin with the obvious, “So-and-So died” or “passed away peacefully.” But some quite cleverly describe the manner of death: “She left with God as her travel agent.” “He entered the Kingdom of Heaven in the company of angels and reunited with the love of his life, Mary, who preceded him.” Ahhh. That’s a nice picture. Next, they list every degree obtained and each position held in business or philanthropy. Others paint a picture of a long life well-lived, full of hard work, followed by retirement and lots of travel to exotic places and the eternal love of family and friends. Something to aspire to, no doubt. But my favorites are the ones that serve up unexpected gems about the deceased’s life. For instance, I read this in today’s paper: “He spent several years traveling across the U.S. with his wife in his frequently needy but ever-faithful Winnebago called Elsa.” I wonder if the same adjectives applied to his wife? And this, “Despite many health issues, she enjoyed life to its fullest, especially her frequent gambling jaunts to Las Vegas with her best friend Donette.” Oh, can’t you just picture it? I wish I could have gone with them! To Vegas – not Heaven (yet). Here’s another item from today’s Tributes – “She firmly convinced us that Irish cream and vanilla cakes are highly superior to chocolate, for which we stand eternally corrected.” I assume they are eternally grateful as well. Just one more: “He loved fishing, trail-riding, his horse John, and his mule Herbie.” These obits are so joyous you can’t help but smile while reading them. Despite the variations in the body of each obituary, the endings are always similar. “He will live forever in the hearts of his family and friends.” or “She will be dearly missed by all who knew and loved her.” After reading all these life tributes, I can’t help but wonder… what will they say about me when my time comes? That I could be a mean old b+#** who, for the most part, loved her husband and kids?! I hope they at least mention my talent for making frozen margaritas and my eternal love for the Beatles. I’m reminded of an old saying, “Be nice to your kids. Someday they will choose your nursing home.” Not only that, they’ll probably write your obituary.