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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Do You Read the Obituaries?

A good friend of mine reads the obituaries every day. She tells me she’s been doing it most of her adult life. She adds, “My mother used to read the obituaries every day. And two of my brothers now read them every day too.” I ask her, “Do you think there’s a genetic link?”

(Source: RobVanDerNeijden)

My friend says she reads obituaries because she finds them interesting—sometimes even edifying. She’s fascinated how a person’s whole life can be crammed into a few inches of print. She’s amazed by some of the lives she reads about—those individuals who raised families; had important, interesting, or grueling jobs; were generous with their time and money; or died a tragic death.

Obituaries speak of death in different ways, we notice. Some say the deceased “passed away.” Others say, he or she “went to be with the Lord” or “was called home by God.” Some don’t even mention that the person has died.

Sometimes the obituaries are heart-wrenching. The face of a small child stands out on the page amid the faces of the octogenarians. A police officer shot in the line of duty leaving behind a wife and three small children always brings a tear, as well as someone in the military killed in battle overseas.

My friend says it used to be that most of the deceased were older than she was. But now, in her mid 70’s, she realizes that she has lived longer than many of the deceased. She finds this fact sobering.

(Source: TuendeBede)

Many obituaries suggest donations be made in the deceased person’s name to some organization. There is a large variety of places: hospice, a local mission, a religious congregation, a parish, an animal shelter, for cancer research, the Make-a-Wish foundation, St. Jude’s Hospital, the Matt Talbot organization, Unicef, a police charity, or a drug rehab center. When a younger person dies “unexpectedly,” you always fear it was suicide or a drug overdose. This is not always the case, of course, but occasionally you will read something poignant like this: “he lost his battle with his drug addiction.” Sadly, a sign of our time.

Obituaries have been around for a long time. Even the ancient Romans “printed” the death notices of prominent people. With the dawn of printing, obituaries became more common. They were usually short, though, because typesetting was such a laborious job. In the early 20th Century, some obituaries for the wealthy were written as poems. By mid-century obituaries had become more democratic. But prominent people still tended to have longer obituaries. Pope John Paul II, for example, had one obituary that was 13,000 words long. That’s a small book!

The internet has influenced the shape of obituaries. E-obituaries tend to be longer. Often they incorporate pictures, music, videos, and art in celebrating the life of a loved one. There’s even an on-line magazine, appropriately called Obit Magazine, that deals exclusively with obituaries.

My friend and I both agree that reading the obituaries—whether daily or occasionally— can help us appreciate the gift of life more. It can also help us readjust our priorities or make us more grateful for family and friends who walk this journey of life with us. And finally, reading the obituaries reminds us that someday our smiling face will be on the obituary page with a few inches of type summing up who we were. I wonder what it will say…

What about you? Do you read the obituaries? If so, do you read them every day? Sometimes? Or only when you have heard that someone you know has died? And if you read them regularly, why? If you never read them, is there a reason you don’t?


(Source: Just-Agnes)


I was in the mood for a little country music. Here is Brad Paisley with Dolly Parton singing “When I Get Where I’m Going.” This first version doesn’t have the lyrics, but it shows a number of individuals (some famous, some not) holding pictures of their deceased loved ones. I found that touching. The second version is the version with the lyrics.


Second version: with the lyrics:

What are your thoughts? I would love to hear from you!

24 Responses

  1. Good morning, Sister Melannie. Yes, I do open to the obit pages in the Boston Globe, but I think I scan those pages more than read them, but that’s not to say I never read them. Sometimes I do. The faces chosen for the obits are often from an earlier time — someone in his or her eighties may have a picture from when he or she was much younger, as if to defy death through photography, maybe? Look at me! Before my body broke down, before my brain gummed into oblivion, before all the disease, I looked like this, I looked like you. I know it usually not the deceased who picked the picture, but still. An obituary is a daily memento mori.

  2. Sr. Melannie,

    The Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton version of the song was great. Brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing.

    I do not read the obituaries unless I know someone has recently passed. They are good reminders that life is passing and we should make the most of the time we have before we pass to the other side.


  3. Good morning Sr. Melannie

    I do read the obits daily. Mainly, so I know if I need to make a condolence call. People’s lives are interesting and you can learn much as to how they lived their life; what was most important to them and how much they were loved by others. I always say a prayer for all of the deceased as well.
    Many beautiful Poems have been written and enjoyed.

  4. Lately I have not gotten a daily newspaper, but when I did, I read the obituaries. They are, to me, a way of recognizing a life; that the person mattered. It respects the life that was lived, whether in 130, or 13,000 words.

  5. Sr. Melanie,
    I do read the obituaries for many reasons. On this Memorial Day thinking of all those who have died is so appropriate. The song is beautiful, and hopeful. Thanks so much.

  6. Hi Melannie,
    The obits are called the Irish sports page or the comics. My parents read them every day and I do too. Recently, I’ve been counting the number of Catholics and Jewish’ funerals. I also note the people who were younger than me. I carefully read familiar names because they might be the parent of a former student or even the student (sad).

  7. My parents (both in their late 80s) read the obituaries every day. My mom says she reads them to check to see if hers is there–then she won’t have to get dressed for the day. I read them occasionally. Some life stories are sad; some, amazing; some, inspiring. What will mine be?

  8. I just wrote my husband’s obituary on April 10th. The song made me cry
    but I looked at his picture and knew he “got where he was going”. He read the obits every day.

    1. Dear Anne, My deepest sympathy to you on the recent death of your dear husband. I will say a special prayer for him, for you, and for your family. I’m sure my readers will too…Sr. Melannie

  9. Yes, I read the obits. Sometimes just to offer a prayer for those who have left us, sometimes to read of outstanding lives here on earth that inspire me to try harder, sometimes to remember that I am still living the life and some have had their life cut short. I think the obits keep me grounded and thankful. Loved the video..made me cry. Loved the words…I will stand before my maker and all my sins & struggles will be gone…..ahhh, heaven.

  10. Today being Memorial Day I remember all of our brave women and men who have fought for our country and are still fighting . Many have lost their lives but many are still here with us. Those still alive carry with them the brutality of war as we see by their broken down bodies and spirit. I pray for them daily and ask our loving God to be a gentle presence in their lives.

  11. I read the obits every day, before it was to see if former patients of mine had died, now I live in a community where I know few people, but I still read them, and frequently offer a prayer

  12. I like to read the obituaries whenever I get a chance. They keep me grounded that this life is not all that it is. And that’s why I have to be good to everyone.

  13. I do read the obits everyday if I can. Some times I read where the person did wonderful things in their life that helped others. People I have never heard of before. It’s a wonderful antidote to the daily news so full of sadness, crime, war, people.

  14. I do read the obits. The song is fantastic, brings tears to my eyes.
    Thanks Sister Melanie, I love your Monday blog.

  15. I used to read obituaries to check the ages people died, and in the case of young people to see if I could glean what caused their deaths. I was a Eucharistic minister in my last parish and used to take Communion to the residents. I always felt very fortunate after those visits.

  16. since the parish I work at receives the newspaper only every few days, I miss reading the obituaries……i read them looking for friends of mine or friends of the family…so that I could pay by respects …paying your respects is a big thing for Italian culture.

    Any way Mel…don’t know who will be in the paper first you or me……..if it is you I’ll be there for you paying my respects….and smiling with memories…blessings

    1. Sister Marilyn,

      I do read the obituaries, a habit I picked up from my father. Maybe it IS a genetic trait!

      I once assigned my religion class to write their life in an obituary. How did they want their life summed up? On what did they hope others would focus ? What were their most important events and contributions? I believe an obituary is a statement of faith, accomplishments, family. Even more briefly, what shall others read on your tomb stone? I believe it was a worth-while endeavor.

  17. When I received the daily paper, I read the obits daily, and would make a point of reading the names of all listed, out loud. I felt that voicing their name gave them some of the respect owed them. I started reading them as a young person (23-24), because I missed seeing that a friend’s mother had passed away. My friend was very hurt, and it took several years before we regained our footing with each other. I told myself that I wouldn’t miss another if I could help it.

  18. Thank you for this post. Very timely considering the recent deaths in our community. It is always so sad, even though I feel deep in my heart we should be happy for those who have passed. Our relationships here on Earth, are why we are here. Be kind to all, we do not know their crosses. My mother use to say about hardships, “It is better than the alternative.” I never believed her, God rest her soul. I can not wait to see her one day. Until then, we must go on and do our best with the gifts we have been given.

  19. I never read the obits until today. I don’t know these people why should i care? Some name caught my eye Della Mae Drew. I Had to read her obit. I got a wonderful and fuuny introduction to Della Mae Drew. That moment i found the reason to read obits. Not to tell folks your dead or recap one’s work history. But hopefully get aglimpse of their world. Go read Cape Gazette Della Mae Brown.

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Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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