If you want to spend time doing armchair adventure travel, enjoying some outstanding fiction, or learning about human nature, try reading obituaries. I have long been among the many who regularly peruse local obituaries. It’s great fun. Try it!
The Master of the Universe Obituary. If you pay to have an obituary placed in the local news, print and/or digital, you should get what you pay for and there’s no reason you cannot sanitize, fictionalize, or aggrandize your dearly beloved departed. It’s amazing how I’ve lived among such distinguished people and did not realize it. And, seriously, these glamour portraits? “That dear lady never looked like that!”
“She was a force of nature” Would that be like a tornado, earthquake, volcanic eruption, or landslide? Was he wound so tight he blew up everything he touched, shifted the whole foundation of family relationships, or just ran off a cliff? Was she a nuclear detonation, destructive flood, or arid, baked dry desert? Now those are forces of nature. I suppose most people who use this phrase, it’s quite common in obits, mean that their loved one had a vibrant, compelling, and engaging personality, or something like that. Sometimes, though, I get the sense that the individual was incredibly stubborn, headstrong, or foolish. They call the wind ‘Mirah’ but they called a disaster ‘Erin,’ ‘Kimberly,’ ‘Aiden,’ or ‘Frank.’ Is it helpful to family to make it sound their loved one’s incredibly selfish self-will that cost his parents tens of thousands of dollars and years of grief was a virtue?
“A world traveler” Paid obits are by folks who have at least a little money. E-v-e-r-y-o-n-e is a world traveler these days. Big deal. Magellan was a world traveler before it was cool. It’s a cheap cliche these days. You pay a lot and follow some guide holding up a flag. “Oh, the pyramids!” Click, click go the selfies and onward in adventure to the Parthenon.
Stark honesty. It almost took my breath away to read, in the very first sentence of an obit, “he took his own life.” Sometimes you pick up on a suicide by reading between the lines (died very young) or through clues (“memorial gifts may be given to the suicide prevention org”). These are incredibly sad. One can only guess at the sorrow that has been left behind. Perhaps it’s therapeutic for loved ones left behind to put it in writing for the world to see, forever. I’m not sure I would make that choice.
Occasionally, the obit publishers will let a “he was a jerk, a pathetic husband and father, and deserved to die” obit slip through. Seriously. If we had honesty in obituaries no telling what we’d end up with.
The fool’s gold-plated resume. Winston Churchill should get a few pages for his life’s journey, work, and accomplishment. Others, not so fast and let’s check that out. Some obits ought to be scrutinized. “Distinguished career” might mean he got his degree, a job, and phoned it in for the last 30 years. Seems like there’s more than a little diploma mill activity among us. Recent obit locally had a string of paragraphs beginning with “He was the world’s greatest…” Well, OK. I’m the world’s greatest grandfather, so the T-shirt declares.
The crank hobbyist. “She had a world class collection of salt and pepper shakers.” Uh, OK. If that brought her great enjoyment by all means include that in the obit. “He had an eye for the unusual and rare item.” or, he was a junk collector. “He had an unbroken streak of 43 years of never missing his team’s football game.” I can see the school logo lining his casket. A widow might say, as I was told by one, “during our marriage he bought 23 new trucks and 18 new boats.” It wasn’t a compliment. They were perpetually impoverished.
The “my way” person. “She lived the life she wanted to live.” “He always did it his way!” And those as if they were positive qualities. One should not be envious of this. Self-restraint is a virtue most of us learn in childhood. Some do not and it’s not worthy of celebration.
The simple follower of Christ statement. “He/she was a devoted follower of Jesus Christ.”
The list is endless but here’s something new to me: A recent obituary said all were welcome but required an R.S.V.P. for the memorial service. Not a bad idea, actually. Keepthe riff-raff, and some family, out.
Early advice I was given when I entered the pastorate was to never, ever joke about death. I think we are way past that.
In retirement, I don’t do weddings but will take or assist in a funeral. So far, no outrageous funeral service requests but it seems the trends are not encouraging.
Have a nice weekend (Go Dawgs!) and a great Lord’s Day.