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How To Read Obituaries

Updated on January 24, 2010

 Try writing an obituary for a loved one that died. It is an exercise in concise English because space is money in a newspaper. Are there even obituaries online without being a paper printed version first?

Writing the obituary is difficult even if the emotion is absent.  You want to remember, to tribute, to make a feel good passage about a life that now ceases to exist. Not just for a day. A week. A month, but forever. It is not easy to cram all the highlights of one's life into a two inch wide column that nobody reads but for loved ones who, ironically, already know it.  The publication is like a morbid announcement that a life is gone. Strangers who read it simply say, "wow, they did a lot in life" or "was that it". Then, if  person did not accomplish much in life, it reads like a soap opera of the wonderful things or deeds they did or liked.

The obituary is a sign post. It is the last notice of one's life, the last chance to tell the world you did exist. I was here. Loved ones who write them do not need them for they could write a book about their beloved, far better than a brief narrow column of highlights.

Obituaries for the living are subtle reminders. Reminders of their own life, their own mortality, their own demise that they will not escape no matter how well they diet and exercise. Obituaries are clocks, ticking away as each passing day becomes a year becomes an era. Each time you, the reader, the casual glimpsing reader, notice the deceased birth dates. Not when they died. You may feel comfortable because the current group of dead lives all have birthdays 10 or 30 years from your own. You sigh. Not my time, yet, you think. So, you do not take them seriously or it seriously- death. The end of your existence, forever. It is a hard concept to grasp when you are healthy, virile and young. It happens to old people, not young and definitely not me! So you think.

Yet, obituaries sneak up on your own life. You start to notice. More people around your age seeing death. Geez, you think, this guy is my age or within 5 years of my age and now he's dead. How can this be? He's too young (even though it is age 45). You get uncomfortable, nervous, then you face reality and realise the death could be you now. No one knows when their time is up.

Obituaries are also wake up calls, not only to your mortality but what have you accomplished in life. What remains to be done. But they also serve a sort of futility, in that, in the end, it does not matter how rich, how poor, how educated, how famous you are because you no longer exist.

Nobody escapes having their own obituary.


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