Call it a sign of Getting Older. Maybe I'm even getting a little Morbid, I don't know. But for the past several months, I've been fascinated with the obituaries in my beloved Cleveland Plain Dealer. I'm never looking for anyone in particular--that's not it. I'm intrigued by these little tiny paragraphs that encapsulate a person's life, moreso by what they don't say than by what they do, and always by how they say it.
Not so long ago, obituaries used to mention the Cause Of Death: there would be phrases such as after a brief illness, or died suddenly, or even in some more graphic cases lost his battle with lung cancer, or something like that. Now I read less and less of that. Obituaries--or "Final Notices," as they are sometimes euphemistically referred to in some publications--have become far more tasteful and subtle in that regard. They don't even say that the person has died. I'm all for that. I mean, after all, it's an obituary. Why do you think he or she is written up in here? It simply proceeds with alacrity and lists the relations and, if the departed's relatives ponied up for a big spot in the Obits, some other interesting facts are included such as hobbies and military service and the rest. I'm particularly fond of the ones that are obviously written by family and not merely by funeral home or newspaper staff. The family ones are much more personal and touching and they have more adjectives. They tell of a woman who had a "quick wit and warmth even under the direst of circumstances." They list "special friends" and even a "longtime companion and loyal guardian," all of whom were obviously pets, judging by their names. These deceased men and women didn't leave behind just husbands and wives, they left behind beloved husbands and dear wives. And their obituaries list all of the grandchildren or nieces and nephews by name.
My newest favorite thing, though, is this trend--around Northeastern Ohio, anyway--of putting in somewhat non-traditional pictures for the obituary. I love to see the old, old pictures of a 1940s beauty next to an obituary for a woman who died at age 89. Or a vintage, youthful Marine in the handpainted portrait style for a man who died at age 72. The other day, I noticed a lovely picture of a woman holding what looked to be her favorite cat and, noses touching, I'd swear they both were smiling. What a wonderful last picture for everyone to remember her by! (Personally, I've never been a fan of any formal, posed picture except for wedding portraits. When I go back and look at my boys' school pictures, I love to see the imperfections: the cowlick, the gap in the front teeth, the simple, everyday teeshirts. It's who they were at the time! My kids never got dressed up except...wow. Maybe for...a wedding!)
Today, however, I saw the Obituary Picture to beat all Obituary Pictures once and for all. When I saw it, I was immediately sad for two reasons: one, that this woman was dead; and two, that I had never known her. As I read her obituary very carefully, I felt like I could surmise quite a bit about her. I saved it so that I could scan and post it here for you. I'm including the date of the newspaper so that you know I'm not making it up. Out of respect for her and her family, I'm blackening the names. I think you'll agree that this is, by far, the most incredible Obituary Picture you've ever seen.
I showed it to Rick, and I said, "I'll be dead, of course, when you decide whether or not to put a picture in the paper for my obituary. I'd prefer you don't put one like this in of me because that's just not my style, but I want you to put in whatever kind of picture--at whatever stage of my life--that you think is the way I should be remembered."
I'm unconvinced as to the idea of an afterlife; I try not to dwell too much on questions so deep and impenetrable. But, if there is one, I hope I have an opportunity to look her up.