When Bob Dylan first broke away An obituary for a 68-year-old woman noted that she donated her body to BODY WORLDS, the anatomical exhibition displaying authentic human and animal bodies. “She hopes to one day be displayed with the elephants.”
Obituaries. I make no apology for reading them. They are a landscape of a person’s life, revealing the myriad of joys and the rumble-tumble of every day experiences. In life, some choices are forced upon us. In our obituary, we – or our children – have the right to sift through and choose a testimony of what we thought was important.
Take last Sunday’s obituaries…
A musician claimed he had “the tune of his life” playing with such greats as Ernest Tubb and Willie Nelson; a man (a newspaper publisher) wanted to be known as having been “born, lived, worked and died in Midvale;” and during her final days, one lady “organized her care schedule and served champagne to her caregivers while eating carrot cake and dispensing wisdom along with the Prayer of St. Francis.
We find that Earlene was a fierce poker player, that Harvey prohibits you from wearing black clothing at his funeral, that Ronald lived long enough to see his first grandchild born four days before he died, that Freddy Ann was partially responsible for the preservation of a historic highway in California.
Obituaries highlight accomplishments. One lady founded a church and the Salt Lake-based Children’s Center, a pre-school for children struggling with emotional issues. Another woman visited every continent with the exception of Antarctica. Another learned to read and write in 12 languages in her search for the origin of the alphabet.
Obituaries present a close-up of the personal. One lady mentioned she counted LDS Church Presidents Gordon B. Hinckley and Thomas Monson as her close friends. One man is remembered for “watching for the bogeyman while his little girls fell asleep.” Another man, the son of an auto dealer, “saw a striking brunette, tried to impress her with his new convertible” but temporarily failed since she “had been trained by her aunts not to talk to strangers.”
Through the obituaries we learn that Carol was proud of her golf plaque signifying membership on “the Worst Team of the Year.” We learn that Christine gleefully attended Earth, Wind, and Fire concerts throughout the West. William lived to be 94, but without his obituary, many would not know that he ran a 4-minute mile as a college track star.
Lives spring anew like lilacs in springtime. Donations are suggested: from an LDS missionary fund to Planned Parenthood to the Best Friends Animal Shelter. And obituaries provide a public way of saying goodbye. (“Marion will live on in every dance, every song, every painting, and every laugh.”)
The obituary page chronicles lives well-lived and hearts well-loved. The facts and dates can be cold and stiff, but a mention of a father reading Nancy Drew mysteries to his daughters…That gives you true portrait of a man, his life, and the intense, private pleasures of the human condition.