Rambling on Decoding Obits

Nothing like a good waltz through the obituary section of the newspaper in the morning to bring joy to the heart; especially if you’re not in it.  At times though, the normally straight forward rendition of a person’s life and demise can cause concern, confusion, commotion and a cluttering of obfuscated facts.  As one who has participated on the more lively end of end of life obsequies, I can now help translate obits that initiate questions into the decedent’s life and ending.

One, if the person died out of turn, say in their 20s, 30s or 40s, look for phrases like, “car accident, after a courageous battle with cancer, after a brief/long illness, or died unexpectedly.”  These explain themselves; but if you see the line “John Doe, 30 years old, died at home,” it means suicide.  Not always of course, the writer of the necrology may have wanted to create a sense of mystery, but it usually points to a self-inflicted means of expiration.

Two, if the death log describes the person as “persnickety, curmudgeon, ornery or grumpy,” this decedent was a complete bastard who hated everyone.  His or her chance of salvation rests on the devil being put off by their disagreeable attitude and requesting a change of venue.  Does this sound harsh?  I’m just being “ornery.”

Three, if the person is listed as having had three or more wives and is currently living with a girlfriend, we’re not talking about a poster child for fidelity.  More than likely as each woman came to learn of his habits of drinking, drug use, laziness or abuse, they decided to more on to another man who was, for lack of a better word–normal.  If the dearly departed was a woman married three or more times there are two options.  If her husbands are all dead, she may have been a Black Widow.  If her husbands are all alive, her last name is Gabor.

Four, look for key phrases describing the life of one who has now assumed room temperature.  “She was noted by her love for her many feline friends.”  Read here: “Crazy cat lady.”  “He had a love of horses and sports.”  This guy spent more time at the racetrack than home and married his wife because she had “nice withers.”  “His friends at the local pub will miss his company.”  This guy had a dedicated seat at the local bar and the barkeep probably named a child after him.  “Gaming was his life.”  This is more than likely a younger person and, however he died,  was found in his parents basement gone to that great X-Box in the sky.

Five, and most important, look for love.  “Loved by family and friends,” is the most beautiful phrase in any obit followed closely by “He/She had a relationship of love with the Lord.”  “He/She will be missed by all and will leave a void in our lives.”  These simple lines, and many like them, give testimony to the dearly beloved being dearly beloved.  By far and away these are statements found in the vast majority of necrologies, which gives us hope and testifies to the love that God has graced to our world.

My obituary?  Phrases like “He died a cowardly death,” “Cried like a baby when he stubbed his toe,” “Tried to take it with him.” “Nobody could be found willing to be a pallbearer,” and “Buried without clothes, since where he’s going he won’t need them,” come to mind.

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