Sunday, November 22, 2009

Reports Of My Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated, But We Can Still Talk About It. (Death, That Is.)

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 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.


  1. As a former obit writer-and yes, there's a certain flair and morbid sense of life and death and even humor that one must have in order to toil in the trenches of print journalism like this-I think I can safely say this is the funniest dad burn obit snap I've ever seen. Hats off to the P-D for running it and a deep Obama-like bow to the family for releasing it to the paper. I'm hoping my sendoff is half as humor-inducing. And, appropos of everything, have you ever read Obituaries, by William Saroyan? Based on the obits column in Variety. Quite the read, I'd say...

  2. What a perfect picture. Clearly a woman with a great sense of humor. LOVE it.

  3. I want a picture like that of me when I croak! Fantastic! How can you stop blogging when you bring me such wonderful news? I might have to call you to get updates, then ;-)

  4. I'm not a fan of the non-traditional picture as far as obits go. On a table of photographs set up after the funeral and during the reception? Yes.

  5. apathy lounge--true, this sort of tribute is not for everyone. some are more traditionalist in their view of death.

    mikey--thanks for the encouragement. and i have a feeling you'd call me no matter what. as far as your obituary, i volunteer to be in charge.

    j@jj--i just get the sense that she was so warmly appreciated by her family, who obviously knew her and loved her so well. i also get the sense that she was giving The Business to death, too, you know?

    Melissa B.--Never read it, no, but I am a deep admirer of Saroyan's short fiction. I'll look it up. Thanks for the recommendation!

  6. We should have a photo shoot over winter break!

  7. That is an awesome picture! She must have been a fun lady! And have a Happy Thanksgiving Nance! ; )

  8. Anali--Thanks, and I hope you had a lovely T-giving as well.

    Mikey--Oh, heavens. Only if you promise me that the photos will NOT end up on the Interwebs. You know how I am...!

  9. Nancy3:34 PM


    Are you sure the family hadn't just read her will leaving her entire fortune to the Home for Unwed Cats?

    That might explain the selection of this particular photo to send to the Plain Dealer.

    Just thinking.....

    Also, how could you give up your blog when I depend on you for this sort of amusing and entertaining information?

  10. With such a fun and unusual pictures, I was hoping for more about her than the bare facts in the write up. The picture is great, but it left me still with questions about her.

  11. J.--One of the sadder things about Obits is that, unless you were a "pillar of the community" or were a minor celeb, you have to pay for a longer obit space, as far as I know. This woman obv. got a standard-sized freebie writeup, but I still think her pic says plenty.

    Nancy--Ah, the Revenge Obit Pic angle; I prefer to dismiss that, thank you. ;-) I will confess to having gone to the obit online and it is a bit longer, though not much. I still get the feeling that she was Just That Kind Of Funloving Gal. Bless her.

    And thanks for the encouragement. I've tabled my decision for the time being and will be putting things into Perspective as I go.

  12. I think she picked this photo out. It makes me think of an acquaintance who dyed her hair pink before she underwent chemo for breast cancer. Laughing at it all, you know? I read obituaries, too, and I always wonder. She was only 54 ... not old, so she must have been ill. (I can't imagine having a photo like this in an obit if one died suddenly in a car accident.) I've made it clear to hubby that when I die, he better write as much as necessary and he better run the obit for more than the one free day. Far more people are going to see that obit than will see the God-awful expensive casket or urn for ashes. I always think it's terribly sad when folks miss the paper one day and then they have no clue that someone they knew died. Anyway, I like the older photos, too. But, some people complain about them ... like they have a right to do that.

    I hope you don't give up blogging unless you have something else you really want to devote your writing time to. I haven't been very good about visiting of late, but I always greatly appreciate your writing.


  13. I wrote my mother-in-law's obituary and wish I'd been in a frame of mind to write my parents' when they died in 1992. They had boring, traditional obituaries.

    I have already written my own obituary and left written instructions for a memorial service. And hey, being a blogger, I want a virtual memorial service too.

  14. when i pass on, i want my obit to make mention of my following abilities:

    1. ability to grow amazing facial hair.
    2. dance moves.
    3. ninja skills.
    4. my undeniable charisma.
    5. my ability to properly guage value in terms of fantasy football trades.

    aside from that, take a picture of me looking thoughtful and dignified but not pretentious. this will suffice.


  15. JPD--first of all, no such picture as yet exists, so stay healthy and safe.

    secondly, i have no problem with any of those achievements, but why limit your hair-growing abilities to merely your face? you've got quite a nest on your stomach that bears mention.

    V--While I doubt I'd be able to write my own obituary without being either snarky or silly, I don't know who I'd ask to do it. Perhaps you've given me an idea for a future post here. Thanks.

    Shirley--I inferred some of the same things you did. And I know what you mean: my cupcakes really get frosted when people complain about the way someone's wedding vows were or the picture in an obit. Feel free to REMARK (i.e. "I think that was strange.") or say, "That's not what I want", but never have the nerve to say, "That is wrong." That's just not your place, you know?

    As far as giving up blogging, I'm still considering that option. I'm trying to make decisions when in the best frame of mind. Thanks for the encouragement.

  16. Stumbled onto you through TGB Elderblog list...and very surprised. My name is Nance, I'm an elderblogger, and I've been signing my comments with this name as I visit other blogs on Ronni's list. Bound to have generated some confusion. Not such a common name, after all; assuming it's also your first name. Would have emailed,'s a long story involving some old settings. Glad to find you and will be back. We have more than just our name in common, I see.

  17. I regret that I did not, at the time, put much thought into the notice. It was one of those "get it done" dealies and it was quite short and didn't really speak of the man. The picture was of him and our baby boy. I am grateful for that.

  18. Fabulous! That's the way to go. I'll bet her funeral service was full of laughter mixed in with the tears. A true celebration of a life.
    And, 100% with you about the photos from the 40's and 50's. Love them.

  19. dbso--Oh, I am so with you. Makes me wish I had a cool, vintage photo for my obit, but alas! born too late.

    Laura--In our paper, there are memorials run all the time in the Obit section. You could do that if there is still something that you wanted to say.


Oh, thank you for joining the fray!

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