I have long been amused by obituaries. You find out all kinds of interesting things about people. I read somewhere that the fascination with obituaries was a senior adult thing because it was proof the reader was still alive. But I have liked reading the obits since I was in my twenties. I was always interested to see how a life was capsulated in a paragraph on paper.
- “Our little Sammy’s gone,
His tiny spirit’s fled;
Our little boy we loved so dear
Lies sleeping with the dead.
- A tear within a father’s eye,
A mother’s aching heart,
Can only tell the agony
How hard it is to part.”
In the 1880s, death journalism became thing. Obituaries had a morbid fascination with the grisly details of the person’s passing. The New York Times did a piece on the death of Theodore Roosevelt, which describes the cause of his death as “a lot of blood which detached itself from a vein and entered the lungs.” While interesting, it might be TMI. It wasn’t until the late 20th century that the writing of the “common man[‘s]” obituary became popular.
In recent years I have noticed a trend. Obituaries have departed from the old, tiresome litany of a person’s accounting. Three new kinds of obituaries have popped up: the funny, the scathing, and the self-written, all of which I love.
Funny obituaries are a way of remembering good-humored people with, well, good humor. Their humorous tributes can remind us of all those little quirks we cherished about our loved ones. I would much rather be remembered for the kind of person I was than what company I worked for or what accomplishments I made. I think funny obituaries most reflect how a person would like to be remembered, prompting a smile. Here is an example of a recent one that made me laugh.
Terry Wayne Ward, age 71, of DeMotte, IN, escaped this mortal realm on Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018, leaving behind 32 jars of Miracle Whip, 17 boxes of Hamburger Helper and multitudes of other random items that would prove helpful in the event of a zombie apocalypse. (Read the rest here.)
Sometimes the dead aren’t remembered so kindly. The scathing obituary has become the new therapy for families long in need of vindication. Here is a snippet of Leslie Ray “Popeye” Charping’s obituary written by his children.
Leslie’s hobbies included being abusive to his family, expediting trips to heaven for the beloved family pets and fishing, which he was less skilled with than the previously mentioned,” the obituary reads. “Leslie’s life served no other obvious purpose, he did not contribute to society or serve his community, and he possessed no redeeming qualities besides quick whited (sic) sarcasm which was amusing during his sober days. (Read the rest here.)
Ouch! What a sad testament to his abusive and pathetic life. Who wants to be remembered for being a terrible human being. There are a few offended by obituaries like Leslie’s. They feel the dead should be respected. After all, “let sleeping dogs lie.” Perhaps families shouldn’t air out their “dirty laundry” in such a public forum. But I say more power to them. A family under that kind of oppression probably found writing the obituary cathartic.
If an obituary is death’s spokesperson and it is meant to give closure and meaning to our ordinary lives, wouldn’t you rather have the last word? Writing your own obituary takes the pressure off of our friends and families gathering around to write glowing reports filled with dull facts or fish tales.
Here is what Jean Oddi wrote about herself.
I was born. I lived. I died. I hate to admit it, but evidently I died. I guess, after all these years, God finally figured out where to put me….I’m leaving behind a hell of a lot of stuff Casey and Melissa will have to get rid of. So, if you’re looking for random crap, you should wait the appropriate amount of time and get in touch with them. But this is not the time to talk about what I may or may not have bought from the JC Penney Outlet or TJ Maxx, this is about me. – Jean Oddi. (Read the rest here.)
While several obituaries are cautionary tales of addictions and suicides, all are a glimpse into our humanity. I, for one, appreciate the new trend in obituaries. In my opinion, they are an improvement on the old style of marking a person’s passing. They give us more insight into a person’s character. It often provokes an emotional response, whether you knew the person or not. Now days, in the digital age, obituaries are a way of making us immortal. Reading the obituaries can help us appreciate our lives more and remind us to get our priorities straight. One day our faces will be on the obits page with a few lines summing up our lives. What it will say? I wrote my own already, just in case. Hopefully, I have lots of time to update and amend.
What do you think of obituaries? Do you read the obituaries? Have you written your own?