31 December 2021

     Have you noticed that – based on obituaries and other memorial notices – everyone who dies has led an exemplary life? People who seem pretty bad in life, nevertheless die good in the newspapers. Good people in life become great people in death. Great people become – well, they just stay great, because even memorialists realize that there has to be some space between earthly excellence and heavenly splendor.

   It has been said that “the evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”[1] Not true, if the obituary writer has anything to say about it. The Good – both real and imagined – easily trumps The Bad (if The Bad is even hinted at). With a quality memorialist, you don’t even need divine intervention to forgive, and then erase, your sins. It’s all in the power of the pen.

   When I die, I certainly hope that - if anyone writes about my life - they will dwell more on the high points than on the low. I hope I will be portrayed as someone whose existence was marked by more plusses than minuses. But don’t say that everybody liked me (they didn’t), that I was always upbeat (I wasn’t), or that I was an asset to my community (debatable). Just try to find the essence of me – the person – if possible.

   I went looking for examples of what I considered honest obituaries. They’re hard to find. I had to go back to 1888 to find one that I really thought told a true story.

This was likely an accurate description of how the man was viewed by pretty much everybody in his later days. It is harsh, but it is the man they knew, and – if he had been alive to read it – he might not have disagreed with it. Still, it is just the sum of a lot of parts that produced the person – parts that probably included loves and hates, wins and losses, successes and failures, all mixed with incredible highs and desperate depressions.

   I hope that, when the obituary appeared, there was someone to come forward to say, “Yes, he was a defeated old son of a bitch. But he was my friend and that wasn’t who he was for most of his 71 years. I knew him When…”

    We probably all hope that.    


[1] Mark Anthony, in William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.”

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