Monday, February 16, 2009



Function: noun

Etymology: Medieval Latin obituarium, from Latin obitus death

Date: 1703

A notice of a person's death usually with a short biographical account

I don’t like obituaries. They are futile attempts to sum up one’s life in a few words.

As a hospice chaplain, I officiate at a lot of funerals. When a family asks me to read the obituary as part of the service, I try to remind those gathered that the obituary is just a skeleton of one’s life – no real flesh and blood. Even long obituaries that include a person’s accomplishments and hobbies are still just a bare bones attempt to capture what cannot be captured in just a few printed black and white words.

It has been almost 9 years since my brother and I had to write our mother’s obituary.

“She died as a result of injuries from a motor vehicle accident.” That part is true. The part left out is the agony we lived while deciding whether to continue life support. Her obituary says “She was a long time member of the Talbot Park Baptist Church and one of their first women deacons.” That part is true, but it omits the church controversy it stirred over women deacons, and it also omits that a long standing church member left the church over it.

“She is survived by 2 children and 2 grandchildren” That part about the survivors might be the truest part. Surviving – bare minimal existence is all we did for a long time.

It omitted that she hated cats and sweet potatoes. It omitted that she took in relatives with no other place to go – a cousin, a nephew and an invalid aunt. It omitted that her laughter was contagious.

When my brother and I are together we never read the obituary, but we do tell stories – the stories that help us remember her and our father. It is the remembering and the telling of the stories accompanied by laughter and tears that keep them alive in our hearts and minds.

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