And They Say Humor is Dead

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.

small obit.pngObituary comes from the Latin obit, meaning death. In the early years, obituaries were nothing more than a one-line announcement, and it wasn’t until around the 19th century that obituaries became much longer and more detailed in newspapers. Celebrities, soldiers, and adventures were afforded special remembrances because their lives (and deaths) were thought to be more interesting than the average person. Over time obituaries became stylized. Pioneer obituaries tended to highlight the values of lives while soldiers concentrated on the nostalgic or their faith. There was even a time when obituaries were written in verse. Here is an example of Samuel Pervil Worthington Doble’s, aged 4 days.
“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 death.pngFunny 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.)

im_dancing_on_your_grave_by_linceealing.jpgSometimes 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.

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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.)

quote-we-are-here-to-laugh-at-the-odds-and-live-our-lives-so-well-that-death-will-tremble-charles-bukowski-42-45-44.jpgWhile 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.

“Huh. Well. that was sort of unexpected. If you are reading this then I have packed my bags for the last time and hit the road for adventures in a new world. God has already thrown out the welcome mat and made me a cup of tea (he knows I like that). I’m not much for “a lifetime in review” but know that I was lucky enough to be born into a pretty spectacular family. I was brought into the world by my loving dad and kick ass mom, (Marc Stephen and Chuckie Thompson Cramer) in 1964 in Ellenville, New York. After they gifted me with two of the best brothers on the planet, we moved to Montana.  J and Mykal Cramer made me never want for a sister; however, my sister-in-law Angelena (EVO) is cool “little sister.” J and Mykal have given me some pretty terrific nephews (Jared, Cavin, Colton, Levi, & Connor) and a lovely niece (Kelcee). Love you guys, make us proud and remember to always do the right thing… or I will haunt you.
Along my life’s journey, I met some incredible people, I am forever grateful for the impact you’ve had on my life (that includes “my other kids” Tyler and Tegan Lee and their dad Thom). Those that were my friends, right up until I kicked the bucket, have brought me immeasurable joy…you know who you are. Hopefully I told you I love you often enough. I’ll just say it one more time for old time’s sake, “I love you!”
In 1995 I met Chris, who later gave me the gift of my life, our daughter Birdie Jane Anneliese Cramer Matson. (I know it’s a mouthful, but every name has meaning!) While Chris and I divorced he loves his daughter, and that is all that matters. Honestly, Birdie and the woman she has become outshines any accomplishment, accolade or adventure I have had, besides who really cares about my work history. I traveled to some incredible places, saw some breath-taking stuff, and did some pretty cool things. But all that aside…Birdie is the best thing I’ve ever “done”, she makes me look good! Really good. She is my legacy. Live the life you imagine Babe, and when it’s your turn to meet up, I’ll have a cup of tea waiting.  Regarding my funeral arrangements, keep it simple. Celebrate. And when I say celebrate…do me the honor of doing it right.  I’ll see you on the other side.  The rest of you…better find Jesus.”

 

What do you think of obituaries? Do you read the obituaries? Have you written your own?

 

 

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