I have these friends whom I converse with on an almost-daily basis via e-mail. We talk about everything: politics, weather, crime, celebrities, etc. Our conversations are always entertaining, and occasionally veer off in hilarious directions. Once upon a time all three of us worked together, but it’s been years; I often think they were smart to jump ship when they did (they ended up working together at a new company, and should have brought me along!!). Even though we rarely see each other in person, I consider them to be two of my closest friends. Just the other day I thanked them for their dedication to reading my blog – they were here from the very beginning, before anybody else knew it even existed.
One of the things my friends share frequently is obituaries. They’ll forward ones they find interesting or noteworthy. This even inspired a death-related post from me a few months ago. I appreciate that they are both interested in obits, but I personally am not one to open up the newspaper and read about dead people I don’t even know. I used to venture into the obituary section from time to time, but doing so always left me feeling unsatisfied, kind of like the way Ralphie must have felt upon opening all his Christmas gifts and not finding the official Red Ryder carbine action 200 shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and a thing that tells time under the tree. (I realize it’s a little late for a Christmas-themed analogy but that’s the best one that comes to mind right now). In other words, unfulfilled.
Reading obituaries leaves me unsatisfied because, nine times out of ten, they never tell you why the person died or what killed them. And dammit, I’m nosy! If I’m going to spend my precious time reading about all of Mildred’s earthly accomplishments, then you’d better tell me in the end how she kicked the bucket! It’s great that Herbert was a longshoreman and belonged to the Moose Lodge for forty-five years and raised three children and eighteen grandchildren, but by golly, please let me know what killed him! Is it too much to ask for a cause of death? It’s like reading a gripping novel, only to discover the last page has been ripped out of the book. Noooo!!!
Seriously. I don’t know why they leave that part out. Is “cancer” a bad word? Should “heart attack” or “pulmonary embolism” be stricken from our vocabulary? Does “three-car pileup on Highway 14” come across as obscene? Of course not! So, after spending 60 seconds getting to know these people, I’m left wondering what they died from. I’ll scan the obit for clues as to what might have claimed them in the end, but there’s rarely anything obvious in there, like Margaret enjoyed base-jumping from skyscrapers in third-world countries with high terrorist threat levels or George’s favorite pastime was snorkeling in the piranha-infested Amazon River with open sores. You know, things I could point to and say, “a-ha!” Instead, I’m left gazing at black and white photographs and trying to imagine these people’s fates. Oh, and that’s another thing – I hate it when the picture is an old one. More than once I have looked at an attractive woman and thought, “Wow, what a hot babe!” before reading on and learning that she was 94 when she died. Eww! My eyes, my eyes! Or, they’ll show some young guy in a military uniform, and I’m thinking, “Iraq must have been a bitch for this poor fellow!” only to discover that he actually served in the Spanish-American War. What happened to truth in advertising, folks?!
And since this observational post is blossoming into a full-fledged rant, I hate the different euphemisms for death they run in the obituaries. Apparently saying somebody “died” is taboo; instead, you find they “passed” or “went to be with their Lord” or, for crying out loud, “left behind their earthbound vessel.” Really?! They kicked the bucket, plain and simple. Why sugarcoat the truth? I’ve also cracked the code when it comes to the often-flowery descriptions they’ll give an individual. Robert was a free spirit really means ol’ Bob couldn’t hold down a job if his life depended on it (maybe it did!); Catherine was fun-loving translates to Cathy was a whore; and John never married is a polite way of saying Jack was a raging homosexual. Not that there’s anything wrong with those things, of course.
I’d like to know how people always manage to pass away while surrounded by loved ones. I mean, heart attacks are pretty sudden, right? And if a guy’s been in a coma for seven years, how can you predict when he’s finally going to die? Even when someone’s got cancer, and their body is withering away, it’s still pretty hard to pinpoint exactly when they’re going to flatline. How can you summon everybody together to be there at that precise moment? It’s a nice image, almost romantic if you will, but probably not realistic.
Finally, on those rare occasions when the obituary does divulge a detail, they always make it sound so upbeat and positive. The dearly-departed are always described as waging a valiant battle against cancer or a brave fight against muscular dystrophy. Man, having those would suck! A more honest obit would say the person curled up into the fetal position upon learning the devastating news and banged his fists against the floor while cursing and crying “Why meeeee???” Or, umm, at least that would be my reaction. No need to gloss that over, folks. It’s not like I care about my reputation anymore, seeing as how I’m dead.
Wow. I think I need an aspirin now.
In closing, I would like to thank my friends, Mike and Caryn, for their loyalty, support, and dedication over the years.
And ask that they stop sending me obituaries already…