Read The Obituaries
May 30, 2014
I like to read obituaries. No, that is not quite right. I read obituaries to quell my curiosity about how others live. It wasn’t always that way. I’ve been a newspaper reader, actually a reader in general, since I was a child and would pour over the pages of the two daily papers my parents received. But I would quickly turn the obituary page in search of more life-affirming articles or distractions like the comics. It was too close a brush with mortality for my young mind.
But now, I linger over them. I look at the photos that loved ones have selected, or perhaps the deceased had declared should be used in preparation for this event. Some are from the person’s younger days with confident smile or a softness that only seems to come from much older photos. Shots of young men in uniform, women laughing, people in the midst and on the brink of life.
Then I read the words. It is comforting that these days many of the obituaries are written by the family members or prepared in advance by the dead. The loving hand is so evident. There are the long obituaries enumerating degrees obtained, prestigious jobs held, honors conferred. I marvel over the breadth of the life lived by this one person. But even the short ones contain much with notes of how much this person cared for others and pets, found joy in his or her hobbies and touched so many with humor and joy.
There was one recently that I was draw to because of the woman’s open face and welcoming smile. She had passed away at age 79 and was greatly missed of her husband of 64 years. 64 years! That meant that she was married at age 15. I had to check and check again to make sure that I had that right. Then I looked again at her face and saw so much joy there. A marriage of 64 years with children and grandchildren who were by her side as she died. That is an amazing story.
It is the story that attracts me. There is so much that you can learn by reading between the lines. Each of us is creating our story by how we love others and how we choose to share our gifts. I read the obituaries to learn how to live my life. Having married at age 34, I certainly do not think that I will live to celebrate my 64th wedding anniversary. But I want to have as much love in that time as I can and that means giving that love as well as being open to receiving it. I think about the legacy I want my life to leave as I see the trail others have left. So many pass quickly and without warning. I can wish for the long life but none of know our exit date. So I linger over the obituaries with my morning coffee and set my resolve to go out and live my day as if it were my last. That is why I read obituaries.