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?”
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.
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?
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!