Blog has moved, searching new blog...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Obituaries 101 = True

I read the obituaries every day. Such good information and informative details about people's lives---the ones that have "left us." BUT WHERE'D THEY GO? If you get the answer to this question, please let me know because I'd like to go visit. One of many reasons that I'm riveted by the obituaries is that I like picturing the person chosen to write the obituary. The person with the task of writing The Last Paragraph About The Person Never To Be Seen Again.

I wrote my father's obituary. I am 100% certain it thrilled him that it was in The Sunday Times and it was right after the guy who invented the Dodger Dog. My dad was/is (you see? confusing when the forever disappearance happens--was? is? crap, I don't know) dad was my favorite human. He was in that teensy group of people who I believe truly know me and still really like me and want me around all the time. He died (left? took the train to Everville? departed?) a bit over two years ago and since then my obituary reading has been more serious. Oh, I love it there---rolling around in the sentences of other confused, stunned, grieving people. Often times I admire what they've written. "Ohhhhh, that's goooooood...lover of life, believer in humanity...I should have included THAT." But there are always always always, in every group of obituaries, several standard reliables that people tend to use. Maybe it's because when you're writing an obituary the surreal ghastlyness is overwhelming.

Uh, hmmm, let's see. Uhhhhh...Right. You liked the color blue!! Maybe I'll write that. Or maybe I'll tell the world that you were KIND and you TRIED VERY HARD. Right, right. I know! I'll call you and ask you what you think I should write. Oh wait. You're dead.

You see? It just gets confusing. So I think people lean toward the familiar Obitspeak. Here are the most familiar:

1. Surrounded by her loved ones...
I understand this overused and sturdy standby cliche. There's something about proclaiming, "LISTEN UP ALL ASSHOLES: HE WAS NOT ALONE AND WE WERE WITH HIM SO IF YOU DIDN'T THINK HE WAS GREAT THEN GO SCREW YOURSELF!" Maybe I'm the only defensive one but isn't it safe to say that, when someone dies, there's a good chance that there are naysayers lurking out there and you just have to send a message in the departed one's honor.
2. His family by his side...
Pretty much the same thing as #1 but a little different. This is what I went with. We were by his side. Holding his hand. Crying. Telling him how much we loved him. You know the story, right? Is there anyone that does not know or has not heard about those last gut wrenching moments of whispering into someone's ear "It's ok to go." In an obituary, when you read "His family was by his side" chances are the family was telling the person "It's ok, you can go now." Even though they didn't mean it. Because, in reality, when that moment of permanent departure is pending---it REALLY doesn't feel like it's ok and what you want to say is, "It is NOT ok, so please DON'T go." The subtle difference between "surrounded by" and "by his side" is the amount of suffering taking place. "Surrounded by" means: WE KNOW YOU ARE GOING AND SO DO YOU AND WE ARE HERE TO WITNESS YOUR LEAVING AND SEND YOU OUT WITH LOVE and "By his side" is more: OH MY GOD, I KNEW YOU WERE SO SICK BUT THIS CAN'T BE HAPPENING AND IF I'M NOT MISTAKEN YOU CAN HANDLE MORE SUFFERING, RIGHT?
3. Private Joke...
This is something that the Reeling Grievers write, TOTALLY BELIEVING that the dead loved one is LAUGHING HIS ASS OFF after reading the clever one liner. I used this one too. Worked like a charm.
This can be eerily short like, "Irv is survived by his poodle Sue" and you're thinking: well who the hell wrote the obituary?! SPEAK UP MAN! Or it can be nauseatingly long, listing thousands of nieces and cousins and nephews and mailmen and children and colleagues and foundations and dry cleaners and students. I know it's my blackheart but when I read one of these I think "This person was not truly liked."
This is where things go awry and people start to seem scary, sad or emotionally unavailable. If the list of achievements is too long you think, "When did Dr. PhD, MBA Successful Man get to hug?" And if it's too short or cryptic you think, "Uh-oh I'm sensing a vague bag lady-ish thing going on."

If I had to do it over again it's safe to say I'd probably write the same thing about my father. Or not. If I could have I would have asked the lady at the obituary desk who I spoke to briefly, "Can I use the entire California section?" But I didn't. I just wrote what I thought encapsulated him. And that was impossible and will forever feel unfinished.

So, in the spirit of The Obituary Fan Club, here are some excerpts from my recent favorite obituaries:

1. "Three years into their marriage, Cantrell died afer being thrown from a mule that had been frightened by a hog."
2. "He is survived by his wife Joanne, his daughter Joanne Jr.,..."
3. "We will miss his great intellect, wisdom and love of smoked delicacies."

These are all REAL. It's hard not to melt when I read them. It's hard not to want to use the obituaries as a kind of message board to the great beyond. IN MEMORIAM. Little notes to that Beloved Person, Gone. "We still miss you." I wish I could write my dad's obituary every day. On certain days, every hour. But I had my moment. My one email to write to that nice lady at the Times. FOR GOD SAKE DON'T MAKE A TYPO!!, I thought NINE MILLION times,when I was writing about my dear father.

And all the others---their sentences are INTRIGUING, funny, SAD, alarming, mysterious, profound, just right. It's all there in the obituaries. The next to the last page of the California Section on the flip side of the weather. I'd live there if I could.

Dutifully Yours,
Mrs. Don't Hate Me Because I Think Too Much

No comments: