Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Obituaries

I never used to pay much attention to the obituary section of the newspaper; just a quick glance to see if I recognized any names and then on to the next section. Recently though that has changed and I find myself spending more time with the section, sometimes reading the entire obituary of a dearly departed that I had never even heard of before.

Now when I get to that section of the paper there are some things I look for: familiar names, of course (happily there have been very few of these), people from the area where I live (so I can see if I know any of their survivors), and people my age or younger. Sad to say this last group seems to appear with increasing frequency but I guess that's only natural since with every year that passes the group gets larger (and older).

If I am moved to read a particular obituary one of the things I look for, especially when the decedent was "young" (which I loosely define as under 90 or so) is the cause of death. Sometimes it's specified ("as a result of a tragic accident", "after a long and courageous battle with cancer (usually)", or "after a period of declining health" are all common descriptions) but often there is no indication at all. It's none of my business of course, but I still have a morbid curiousity about what led to their final demise. Occasionally the explanation can be found in a related news story but this is rare and especially tragic, I think. One line that always gives me a chuckle is when someone over the age of 90 or so is said to have "died unexpectedly". I mean, how much of a surprise could it have been?!

Of course each notice is unique but there are some common phrases that seem to appear in many obituaries. "Surrounded by loving family" is one that I think is nice - it seems a shame to be alone when death comes. I was not present when either of my parents passed and I've always regretted that; I was close by and had been with them shortly before their final passage, so maybe they waited until I wasn't there to leave so I wouldn't have to witness their departure (that sounds like something both of them would do.) Still, I wish I had been there to hold their hand and say goodbye.

I've already mentioned another recurring phrase, "after a long and courageous battle with..." I know there are people who have debilitating terminal diseases who nevertheless show great courage and strength in the face of their condition and they are a source of pride and inspiration to all who know them. Let it be known here and now that I am not such a person. If I have such an illness I will live well for as long as I am able, but when the pain and physical/mental infirmities set in I want drugs, and lots of them. There will be no "long and courageous battle" for me, and my obituary should not say otherwise! When my time comes (hopefully much later rather than sooner) all I hope for is for it to be relatively pain free and sufficiently quick so as not to impose a burden, emotional, financial or otherwise, on my loved ones. Which reminds me, I have to make sure my "Living Will" is in order and I suggest that anyone reading this do the same.

So yes, the obituaries have become a "must read" section for me because I have reached a stage of life where I realize that one's death is not as important as how one is remembered, and that is what the obituaries tell us.

As for my own, I hope it's something like, "...died just a week shy of his 101st birthday as a result of being shot by a jealous husband."

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