I am an avid reader of obituaries in my local paper and I have a love/hate relationship with them. I cannot stop myself from reading them. Every week when the paper arrives, I open to the obit section hoping that, THIS time, I am going to read something that will make me smile through my tears. Most weeks, however, I am just saddened. But those rare occasions that make me smile are so worth weeding through the rest. So, I have to speak up about this issue, because everybody deserves a great obituary.
There are so many great things about obituaries. The lovely, full names, some of which have not been used in decades or generations. The number of years this soul lived here on Earth. Anything over 80 gets an automatic smile and no tears from me, because I tell myself, "they lived a good, long life". But I don't really know whether they did or not. Some can accomplish their life's purpose in a few years while others may coast through decades, expecting to have plenty of time until time is no more for them. But I still hope, so I read on to see what this stranger's life was like. I rarely find out.
What I do know about 99.9% of the souls written about in the obituaries is the name of every relative who preceded them in death and every relative left behind. I understand the main purpose in this part - you might not know the full name of this soul but you may find that your friend/neighbor/co-worker's loved one has past away and you can now offer them some comfort or take a burden off them for a while. I don't begrudge such lists but I am angry for the departed soul when such lists are the ONLY details we receive. Everyone deserves more than that.
Each one of us has a life or many lives. We experience joy, disappointment, accomplishment, heartache. We have dreams, goals, setbacks, comebacks, fights for what is right or what we believe in. Some of us make a difference in the life of another, some in the lives of many. And everyone of us deserves to have our story told in the paper at least once in our lives, even if it is only in our obituary.
My "smiling through tears" moments have come when I read about her prize-winning pie that everyone looked forward to at the church social. His volunteer work as Santa visiting a shelter. The business he started as a teenager, worked for 40 years and passed onto his son. Service to our country and countrymen as soldier, sailor, nurse, riveter, bandage wrapper, teacher, spiritual leader, greeter, usher, parent, foster parent, ice cream maker, singer, bringer of sunshine and smiles to everyone they met. Doing something when no one had ever done it before, whether it was landing on the moon, standing up to the bullies of the world or hugging the outcast in town. I'm proud of my fellow citizens, I rejoice in their lives, their happiness and their achievements when I read these things. It gives me hope for humanity, that there is better in my neighbors than the indifference and rudeness I see in the living.
But when you have to write an obituary, you can't always think of these wonderful things. You are grieving; in shock; just want to draw the curtains to the world, curl up and drown in your loss. But you have things to do and people to notify and with every call you make it gets worse. Something is released to the local paper to assist with announcing this soul's passing to those who cared about him or her. You've done the best you could under the circumstances. So let's change the circumstances.
Everyone, please start writing obituaries. Now. When you don't HAVE to. Write one for your parents, spouse, best friend, yourself. Get in the habit of reminding yourself about this person's life - THEIR life, THEIR story. If you don't know it, ask them. One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is to listen to their story. Remember it; write it down; save it, so that when the Holy Spirit comes to usher your loved one into the presence of the Lord* you will have this loving honor to them already taken care of. You'll read it and remember their good, long life. It will help you and the others who have been left behind. It will honor those who have moved on. It will touch the lives of strangers reading about them in the local obituaries by giving them hope.
*Paraphrasing a description I read in one of my favorite obituaries.
- I am a very lucky woman with a husband and son who are smart, witty and entertaining. Our son, B, attended public school for two years, and then we embarked on a new adventure in the Fall of 2010 - homeschooling. We don't have all the answers, but we know B and this has been the best thing for him. I blog to preserve our stories and our memories, share recipes, vent and ramble on about our crazy, yet blessed, life. Would you care to follow along?