Why I love obituaries
Obituaries are right up there at the top of the list of things I like to read in the newspaper.
It’s not that I have a ghoulish preoccupation with death, or at least I don’t think so. It’s that obituaries are often the deceased’s and his or her family’s last opportunity to sum up, to say a final word or two. If they’re well-written, they’re really little biographies. I spent a good part of my early career writing obituaries, and enjoyed doing so.
It used to be that some of the best newspaper writing could be found in the obituary columns, though today the notices tend to be paid advertisements in which families get to say whatever they’d like. I enjoy that, too, because they get to choose their own way of saying how the deceased left. I’ve always favored the straightforward “died,” but survivors tend to prefer gentle euphemisms like “passed on” and “passed away” and “went to heaven.”
They used to “expire” occasionally too, though that always sounded to me like somebody forgot to renew their subscription.
Have you noticed, too, that hardly anyone dies alone. They always seem to be surrounded by their loving family.
Given a choice, I’d prefer to ask loving family if they’d give me a moment so I could gasp my last breath out of earshot and out of view. But, that’s me.
I enjoy when people really have nothing to say about their dead relative but feel compelled to come up with something. So they write that he liked to go out to dinner, or enjoyed watching TV, or loved his special companion, Fluffy. I say why not just say it: He died of boredom.
I also like obituaries in which the dearly departed or his family take one last shot at his pet peeve. “Mr. Smith hated Ford automobiles,” was a line in an obituary in a California newspaper a decade or so ago that still makes me smile.
My favorites — and they’re rare — are the obituaries which demonstrate the subject had a keen sense of humor.
Martin “Marty” Gersten, a furniture salesman of note in the Glens Falls area for many years, died at the age of 83 on Monday, according to his obituary in The Post-Star.
The obit said he was known for “his endearing sense of humor,” which I would have guessed by the time I finished reading it.
Friends were invited to call at a local funeral home from 1 to 3 p.m. today. “The first 100 to express their condolences will receive a delicious box of Good and Plenty candy.”
Zoom! Right to the top of my list of favorite obituaries.
Irv Dean is the Gazette’s city editor. Reach him by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.