By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
I don’t know about you, but I’m finding it very hard to find any good news these days. This morning our local paper was a virtual smorgasbord of bad tidings….ebola, ISIS, a volatile stock market…all things that are probably in your newspaper as well. In addition to the scary national and world news, I also have to absorb all of the LOCAL bad news. Today’s lowlights include stories about an 8-year-old found starving in a drug den, the shooting of a police officer and more layoffs at a major employer. As if all that weren’t enough, my favorite ice cream parlor has closed! Some days it’s just too much to handle. I admit that I am a dinosaur when it comes to getting my news – I still like a newspaper. I guess it comes from being the daughter of a newspaper publisher. I suppose I could limit my reading to the more frivolous fare downloaded on my iPad so my day could start with TMZ reports or updates on Pinterest. I would probably be a lot happier, albeit less informed. But for now I’m sticking to the printed page and I have found a spot where I can consistently find good news: the obituaries.
I need to state right off that there are definitely categories of obituaries that are NOT uplifting. Any notice about children is tragic on the face of it and often brings a tear to my eye. I also feel for the people who die “before their time”, although I guess if they’ve died it was their time. My definition of dying too young has changed a bit over the years. I used to think that anyone who died before age 60 was sad but not completely unexpected. Now as I approach Senior Citizenship, I’ve decided that anyone who dies before they get to collect their Social Security checks has died too young. After all, if you make contributions all of those years and never get to collect, then it really was a bad deal and you could have spent that money on wine, (wo)men and song. Luckily, the vast majority of obituaries are written about people who are well past Social Security and most of them have lived pretty darn interesting lives. In fact, rather than finding the obituaries depressing, I think of them as living history – reading about the people who were part of our community and how they fit into the fabric of our lives.
I love the quarter-page obits, where you learn interesting tidbits such as where the deceased went to grammar school and what their favorite type of pie was. But even the ordinary tributes often give a wonderful insight into a life well-led. Today there was a notice about a woman who was described as outgoing, loved a good card game with her family, took part in an animal rescue organization and danced with a senior citizens group. Makes me wish that I had known her. I did read one recently that listed EVERY job the man held at an oil company over a thirty year career; that was a bit over the top even for me. The best obituaries are generally written by children and include great tributes to the departed’s love of family, favorite jokes or legacy of examples set. These days there are a dwindling number of obits about WWII veterans but being somewhat of a connoisseur of the well-written obit, I assure you that they are almost ALWAYS the most interesting. Often they include the theaters of operations the person served in, the major battles, and oftentimes something about how fond the deceased was of his fellow “buddies”. As if to prove just how important those years were, the photo accompanying the story is not of the person in old age, but as they looked during their time in service 60 years ago. Of course, obituary pictures in general should never be relied on for accuracy since most people choose a photo that resembles them only on the most flattering day of their lives. There was a decade or so where those old “glamour shots” were a popular obit choice and believe me, nothing looks more out-of-place than a story about an 89-year-old woman accompanied by a picture with the wind machine blowing so hard she looks like a dog with its head out the window.
Finally, there are the truly humorous final notices. Generally these have been written by the deceased and serve to set a tone of how they wish to be remembered. There was one circulating on Facebook this past summer about a ex-advertising man in Pennsylvania who wrote, “Kevin J. McGroarty, 53, of West Pittston, died Tuesday, July 22, 2014, after battling a long fight with mediocrity.” He went on to explain about his mis-spent youth and exhorted his friends “don’t email me anymore, I’m dead”. It was a fairly long piece and you get the feeling that Mr. McGroarty took great pleasure crafting it in his final days. That’s a luxury, I suppose, that we all would like to have.
So as you read the paper or watch the news over the next few days and you begin to feel depressed, turn to the obituary page. I promise you’ll find something to boost your spirits, inspire your day or, if you’re really lucky, make you laugh.