Wishing I’d known the man in the obit

Someone recently e-mailed about something I had written. He said my column is the second newspaper feature he turns to each week following the obituaries. I considered that high praise, as the obituaries are what I always read first.

It’s not that I rely upon them as death notices. Our small town grapevine, formerly tended by my Aunt Pauline, handles that kind of news, sizzling off the press. Obituaries are just so darned interesting. Individually and collectively, they warrant attention.

But it’s not so funny when you see a name that’s the same as a special someone to you. Last year, people thought Marshall mayor Bruce Smith was dead, but it turned out to be a different Bruce Smith.

You can’t always know who’s who. I once purchased a sympathy card for a former colleague, mistakenly thinking his (still alive and well) brother had passed. Oops, wrong guy. Recently we had the local scare of Bill Fox, 48, dying, which turned out to be another Bill Fox. My condolences to the family of that Bill Fox.

My Grandma Smith always read the obits first and aloud when I was a kid. “I’m looking for my name,” she’d chuckle at her plain-Jane longevity versus the untimely demise of some well-known, comparative youngster.

Along those lines, when I wrote for The Daily Reporter, we’d receive a call each morning from a woman who wanted to know if there was an obituary that day for a “Myrtle Mavery”(not her real name).

Finally tiring of the calls, I asked the woman for her name, promising to notify her as soon as we received the obituary in question. Her name? You guessed it: Myrtle Mavery! Apparently, she refused to believe anything unless it appeared in print.

My husband hates 40-year-old photos accompanying the deaths of 80-year-olds. I hate head shot photos cropped from group photos with someone’s hand sitting creepily upon the deceased’s shoulder. We’re both curious about the ages of those who died, except when they’re our ages. I sometimes calculate the daily death age average, as if the mean actually means anything. We’re all counting down.

A friend reads obituaries for the guilty pleasure of guessing cause of death. She’s not the only one. She informs me “died suddenly” usually means accident, heart attack or brain aneurysm, but can be secret code for self-inflicted death. Memorial donations also provide her with clues.

At work, we peruse the obituaries for deaths of seniors we serve, hoping to avoid dispatching a worker to an awkward situation. I note that while we may have provided Meals on Wheels to someone for 10 years, the agency that became involved with their care in the 11th hour typically gets the memorial donation. Grrr.

Cynicism and curiosity aside, obituaries provide wonderful summary of how a person lived. A friend who was determined to capture his mother’s essence insisted on helping her write hers while she was still of sound mind. The writing session resulted in this apt line: “She dabbled in housework.” Remember that when my time comes.

I even read the obituaries of strangers, posthumously impressed by the nature of the many wonderful people I never got to meet. Thomas Michael Destefano, Sr.’s stated, “Tom did everything 100%, from eating a good meal to hugging away a hurt, from setting a high standard to digging a new flowerbed, from tickling a grandchild to teaching a hard lesson. In return, he was loved 100% by the family he gave himself so fully to.”

More profound was the wisdom contained in the obituary of Joe Orosz. In addition to his survivors, it said he left behind “an example of a life lived in accordance with the values of honesty, caring and kindness to all. He neither envied others who had more than he did, nor looked down upon others who had less.

“Joe Orosz was one of those quietly decent men who paid his bills, pulled his weight, served his country, helped his neighbors, and provided for his family. He was respected by adults, loved by children, and will be forever missed by those whose lives he touched.” Not to mention those who missed the chance to know him.

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