I‘ve been reading the obituaries lately. Once you hit 70, it’s required.
What strikes me is how they make the recently deceased so vanilla, so plain and soulless.
Obituary writers must see this as a dull, dull world.
Everyone dies. They leave loving husbands and wives and children and grandchildren. They lived here and there, maybe had a job and belonged to a church. The end.
No “‘He once saved the life of a friend.” Never “She was expert at whistling ‘Dixie.'” Not even a “Never peed in the shower.” Or “Known for her delicious thick-crust apple pie, especially the one with which, in 1952, she tried to poison her husband.”
When I die, I want my obituary to reflect me and my life, the way I lived it.
It’s not that difficult. Even a little zinger can say volumes. Like, “In lieu of flowers, please send acerbic letters to Republican Neocons.” Or, “His remote was buried with him.”
I love this one: “…he ultimately stuck his head in a heated gas oven with a golden delicious apple propped in his mouth. Miraculously, the apple was saved for the evening dessert.”
Of course, I want to be dead first.
What’s the old saw about reading the obituaries first, and if your name isn’t there, you might as well go to work?
Turns out, reading your own obit is no more unusual these days than it was in 1897 when the New York Journal erroneously published Mark Twain’s premature obituary, to which Twain famously responded: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
Dick Cheney, Ronald Reagan, Bob Hope, Fidel Castro, Nelson Mandela, Gerald Ford, even Pope John Paul II were all outed as dead in 2003 by a technical glitch at CNN.
And when Pope Benedict XV was ill, a special edition of a New York newspaper screamed “POPE BENEDICT XV IS DEAD” across the front page. When the report was denied, an equally large headline read: “POPE HAS REMARKABLE RECOVERY!”
Should that we all be so fortunate.
Not that obituary writers don’t try. They even have an association that meets annually for “fun, inspiration, and enlightenment,” this year at the Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas.
As president and founder, Carolyn Milford Gilbert (just as you’d expect an obit to read), said recently, “We have become that ‘needle in a haystack’ for obituarists who toil unnoticed in countries around the globe.”
But why trust, what is it, an unnoticed obituarist? Or, more likely, a funeral director you never even met?
Write your own obituary! Far more important than your epitaph – let’s face it, few will ever visit your grave – your obit is either your final whimper or your last hurrah. Write it the way you want to be remembered, not necessarily for churches you attended, but for your attendant graces and oddities, even the lessons of your life.
If you’re like me, you’ve been the bad example that others used to keep themselves on the straight and narrow. Publish that scold so all the world can wince and recoil.
For me, if I don’t first choke to death on my own words, I believe I’d like it to start out:
“Shot to death yesterday by a jealous husband, 101-year-old Frank Kaiser…“