death_becomes_her-_selected_obituaries_by_margalit_fox[1]“When you write my obituary…”  my husband hesitated, then began again, “If I die first, and you write my obituary, please just state the facts.”

“Okay, why?”  I asked.

I was sitting on the couch nursing that first cup of necessary coffee while watching the morning news to see what the weather had in store for us on that unpredictable spring day.   Matt was sitting at the kitchen table probably on his third cup.  He had just finished his daily readings and was on to the morning paper.

“Listen to this,  ‘It was a bright and sunny day when Benny entered heaven…’  How do they know what the weather was like in heaven?”  He asked.

We are faithful readers of obituaries.  Our kids think that it is a little strange.  But, we each came from small towns where everybody knows everybody.  If someone dies, it affects someone that you know.  My parents read the obituaries, usually sitting at the kitchen table when our small town paper came out each week.  That is not to say that we didn’t already know the news by the time the paper was printed, but reading it in print confirmed that the “news” that someone had died was fact and not gossip.

Soon after we moved just outside of the city, we began scanning the obits to see if anyone from our small town was listed.   I began to notice the “big shots” or the really long obits that typically included a picture of the decedent.  I started reading their stories to see why they needed  so much real estate.

Then, as I got older, I would scan their ages to see how long people were living these days.  When I ran across the young folks, I typically read their obituaries.  It would remind me how fortunate I am.

Over time, I have come to read them all.  If I find one that is particularly interesting or funny, I will read it aloud to my husband.  Now, he too, has added these bits of literature to his morning reading routine.  I don’t know if we are fascinated with death or the lives of those who have died. Maybe it is both.

I used to teach an expressive writing class in the county jail.  I was looking for new and different ideas for writing exercises when I stumbled across an obituary of a man who lived in a small town just outside of our city.

Right after high school, he started bagging groceries at a local store.  He moved up the ranks: checking out customers, working in the meat department, managing the store and finally owning a store or two of his own.  I guess along the way, he had been experimenting with ideas of how  to substitute butter and he came up with a good one.  His idea came at a time when doctors were just beginning to caution people that butter had a lot of cholesterol in it.  His product would cut back on cholesterol and was less expensive than butter.  It was sold to a company that created Country Crock butter.  It was so inspiring that I cut it out.

Here and there I would find a funny or notable obit, cut it out and stick it in a file.  One day, as I was adding to the file, I thought it might just be a great activity for my girls at the jail to write their own obituary.  It might spur them to think about what they wanted to leave behind instead of just trying to survive another day.   They did not share my enthusiasm.  Apparently, they had been given this activity before, as a cautionary device.

I tried to give them another perspective.  “Look, we can’t write our beginnings.  And, most of us won’t write our endings.  But, the middle is ours for the writing.  What will yours be?”  I asked.  After I read them few from my collection, they seemed to find possibility in the assignment.

And, maybe that is why I like reading them.  Or, maybe I love seeing how close by amazing lives have been.  Perhaps, it is seeing the variety of stories that are out there.  Whatever the reason, Sunday’s paper was certainly one that could stimulate curiosity and a zest for living.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • “If you are reading this, smile, because that’s what James would like to see…”  I have to be the skeptic here, since I do not know James.  Would he really want you to smile?  Or would it warm his heart to see a tear or two?  I think we all would like a little affirmation that our lives are loved and will be missed.  But, maybe that’s just me.
  • Ava, born in 1931, completed her PhD ABD in Middle Eastern History.  With a daughter in a doctoral program, I would say that this is the ultimate cautionary tale.  ABD will follow you to the grave…just sayin’.
  • “Doug, born in 1942, kicked the bucket on March 18, 2016.”  He is survived by his mother, his faithful dog, Buddy and his former wife and longtime friend, Gwen.  In lieu of flowers, the family requests smiles, stories and your favorite picture brought to the visitation.”  I bet there are stories to be told there.  And, Yes, they did use ‘kick the bucket’.
  • Virginia “Tootsie” passed away at her home, where she was born 105 years ago.  Wow!  Can you imagine?
  • Jack age 99, who graduated Harvard Medical School, was among the first to use penicillin, a newly discovered antibiotic, aboard a Navy ship handling the first wave landing at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.  Continued studying infectious diseases such as influenza, published textbooks and developed a device that helped deliver aerosol treatment to respiratory illnesses such as the flu died as a result of the flu.  Oh, the irony and what an amazing life.
  • Clarice Stocks age 101, retired at age 86 from clerking at the post office, was preceded in death by her husband Bonds.  I had to read this twice.  Her husband’s name was Bonds Stocks–you know like stocks and bonds in reverse.  Was it a typo?  A mean joke?  Who knows…
  • Ms Eunice, age 94, “the mighty spark in her family’s little firecracker went out Friday, March 18, 2016, left this earth in the arms of family and went racing through the gates of heaven to be held by the love of her life, Marshall.”  Here again, I have to question, are we even allowed to run through the gates of heaven?  Is there a test or a gate code?  Can it really be that easy?
  • William went to MBA, a prestigious private high school for boys in Nashville.  Their motto is “Gentlemen, Scholar, Athlete” He then went on to Vanderbilt University and became SEC player of the year.  He was #1 draft pick and spent 13 yrs in the NFL playing for the LA Rams and Chicago Bears where he went t a world championship.  Twice they mentioned what a gentleman and an athlete he was. They didn’t mention the scholar part…

Pretty interesting, Huh?  I think so.

Another bit of information on Sunday’s obits is this, three people in their twenties died.  Not one person died in their thirties or forties.  Five died in their fifties.  I am fifty-one years old.  Six in their sixties.  Ten in their seventies.  Fifteen in their eighties.  Six in their nineties and three one hundred years or more.  Wow.

I guess that you could argue that I am wasting time with an interest in the lives of those who have gone on before me.  You might be right.  Sometimes, when I look at those around me, I learn something.  I’d like to think that this is the case here.  I enjoy poking a little fun, yes.  But, more than anything, when I read these abbreviated life stories, I am able to see the UPS guy as someone more than the delivery man.  I might go to the grocery store on Wednesdays (senior day) and see beyond the older folks slowing me down. Maybe I can get out of my own head and remember that we all have a story.



About The Author

Jean Heaton

I am a daughter, sister, aunt, mother and probably most notoriously, ‘the Vet’s wife’.


  1. Robert | 23rd May 16

    Everyone does indeed have a story… of our joys in knowing people

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