And one of my daily pleasures.
Coffee, newspapers, read the obits.
Start with a quick scan to see if my name is mentioned in any of the bold print.
So far, it has not been.
It occurs to me that if I am able to read an obituary, it is likely that I am not (at that moment) going to be the star of one – but I hedge my bets.
Then a second quick scan to make sure that the names of the recently departed include mostly people called Leonard, Murray, Joan and Lois.
So far, so good.
When I start seeing Cheryl, Sharon and Susan on the obituary page, I will know our boomer round is up.
Then I settle in for a more leisurely reading of the person’s life story.
What do I enjoy about reading obits?
I love learning about people’s lives.
And what matters to them – or doesn’t.
Starting from day one (unless you are a celeb) – you get only a few chances to tell the world your story.
So word choice matters.
“I’m here”, says the baby announcement, albeit written by someone other than the child her or himself.
Baby announcements don’t tell you much.
Height, weight, name.
(the latter is a fascinating subject on its own. A parent invests their hopes in a baby’s name. Tyler? he will be a star soccer player. Naming him Samuel? please, please let him be a doctor.)
Years after baby announcements come the next public notices of your life story.
Engagement and wedding announcements.
For reasons unclear to me now, my parents thought it was important that my engagement announcement appear in the New York Times.
The fly in the ointment was that my younger sister (thanks, Judy for ruining my solo moment!) decided to get engaged at the same time.
The NYT chose to publish the announcement (yes, the acceptance standards were no doubt more relaxed back then).
And the headline read: Wolf Sisters to Wed
Years later I wondered – what were those copy editors thinking?
Two animals getting married?
Sisters engaged to each to other?
Engagement and wedding announcements are mostly about colleges attended, jobs held and who your parents are or were.
But obituaries top my list for what they say or don’t say about how a person lived her life.
Those captain-of-industry types now passing away in their 80’s and 90’s?
Their obituaries begin with a long list of their important jobs and titles, right up until that top executive chair.
Mentioning family comes in the last paragraph. Does that mean that he viewed them as the support staff in his rise to prominence?
Check also the order of the list of “survivors”.
If a relative is listed in the “Also survived by” section, it means don’t bother to attend the reading of the will. You’re not in it.
The obituaries that worry me the most are the ones that lead off with –
“After a long valiant battle with cancer” or “Following a courageous fight against his heart disease” or “Her grace and determination as she struggled with her illness was an inspiration to all of us”.
For real? They were that brave? Always?
If I die from a dreadful, painful disease, I fear my obituary – if the least bit truthful – will more likely read:
“Nancy complained about her illness for years. She could not tolerate pain of any sort and let her family, friends and all medical professionals within shouting distance know loudly and often how she was feeling.”
My husband enjoys his dental visits. I once bit my dentist’s hand. Hard.
I can’t do pain. Must my obituary state that I am courageous when I will definitely not be?
But apparently truth is a relative thing in obituaries.
“Everyone who crossed her path was better for having known her.”
Everyone? I doubt it.
“He was invariably kind to all who knew him.”
Let’s not ask his kids.
So if you are reading this, future obituary writer, please feel free to take a bit of liberty with mine.
You can say that I loved my husband to pieces, adored my kids and that my grandson was the light of my life.
But please leave out the part about my drawing blood from my dentist’s hand.
He isn’t likely to come to my funeral anyway.