You are currently browsing the daily archive for October 2, 2010.

Sounds like kind of a morbid topic, doesn’t it?  Well, I don’t intend for it to be.

I recall my Dad telling me long ago that the New York Times wrote obituaries in advance for famous people.  It makes sense – it saves the time it takes to do the research when someone dies, and in these days of instant media, it’s essential that accurate information is published immediately.  It would be a lot easier just to update an obituary with the latest highlights of someone’s life than it would be to compose it from scratch when they died.  I always had the impression that you knew you’d really “made it”, that you were really “someone”, when the New York Times had your obituary on file before your passing.

My friend Andrew had two different obituaries – one for the Minneapolis/Fridley paper, where he was living when he died, and one for the Boulder paper, where he had lived for so many years.  The two pieces had different qualities to them, with the Boulder piece feeling slightly more personal, and the Minneapolis piece feeling more tailored to his “current” life, as would be expected.  I don’t know who wrote either piece, but both did a fine job of expressing the elements of the man we knew and loved.

On one of my last visits to my Mother, she and I wrote her obituary together.  I can’t quite remember how the subject came up – I think I had asked her what she’d like it to say, and we decided it would make sense for us to do this exercise, so she could make sure it included what she wanted.  We actually had fun with it.  It was amusing and good mental exercise for her to think back about her life chronologically, and it required us to delve into her decades worth of journals to answer some of the questions. 

Thinking chronologically about her 80 years helped her appreciate what she’d accomplished, and helped her remember things that were important to her, things that weren’t at the forefront of her mind as she battled her cancers.  She wanted it known that she had learned 10 languages over her lifetime.  She wanted her education known.  She wanted her work history told.  She wanted her family achievements highlighted – her husband, children, grandchildren, brother, sister, parents, birthplace.

My parents were both avid readers of the New York Times, and like the Grey Lady’s  famed obituarties, my mother’s highlighted the unusual, precious and obscure facts that made her who she was.  (And if you’re interested, there are several books of New York Times obituaries, the most recent of which is  The Last Word – The New York Times Book of Obituaries and Farewells: A Celebration of Unusual Lives by Marvin Siegel (ed.), available at

I typed the whole thing up on the computer, adding a last line about how much light and love she brought to the world and how much she’d be missed.  She approved.  It felt good to her to have written it.  It was a loving closure, and it was one less thing for grieving family to do – she’d been very diligent about making sure we didn’t have to futz with “arrangements”.

I don’t know why I was thinking of this today.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve been a bit under the weather with some flu-like bug, and that always makes me feel uneasy, and yes, slightly morbid.  Perhaps moribund is the word?

How would YOUR obituary read if you had the chance to write it?  It might be an interesting exercise for a chilly winter’s day.

October 2010
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