By Brenda Tadych
I didn’t know my Uncle Charles volunteered for Meals on Wheels. Nor did I guess Great-aunt Mary had an affinity for crossword puzzles. I’m a little ashamed to say I didn’t know these things until I read it in their obituaries. It was as if I was being introduced to new people.
Uncle Charles wasn’t just my uncle and godfather, of course. I also knew him as an electrician and a hunter. But, how did I not know him as the volunteer who drove his silver Jeep Cherokee to deliver meals to seniors? And I never knew, “Have crossword puzzle book - will travel” was something of a Tadych family motto according to Aunt Mary’s obit.
My aunt and uncle’s obituaries informed me of something interesting and wonderful. Some obits read more like a job resume and are so short that it really makes me wonder: I mean, the votes have been counted, the final tally is in, and the deceased scored zero? Was the deceased truly void of any cousin, friend or neighbor who could tell the world something interesting about their life?
I know it’s difficult to find the right words for an honorable obituary in the midst of preparing funereal arrangements and attending to countless chores. It’s particularly daunting to accurately organize the names and relationships of survivors. There is a demand to see it all in writing and it’s up to those left behind to capture a whole life in one obituary and honor the deceased as best they can. That’s a lot of pressure.
Within the final printed words summarizing an entire life, certainly we are interested in where the person was born, where they worked, and to what organizations they belonged. We love the heart-warming pictures and want to know who the survivors are and where we should direct our donation. But why not let the world know, “She could never have enough headbands or wear enough pink.”
Personally, I’m drawn to the “exit laughing” approach - obituaries with a touch of humor to memorialize the person’s life and legacy. “He kicked the bucket, bought the farm, and ate his last pretzel” or, “Tragically, she passed before her Phillies finally won a game this season.” If that’s not love behind those words, I don’t know what is. These sometimes-silly quips tell the reader all they need to know about the deceased and a little something about the loved ones he or she left behind.
The lives reflected in these lighthearted obituaries certainly had their challenges and burdens, but there they are, making us smile when we least feel like it. I say to hell with the neatly constrained biography! Tell me more about baseball, pretzels and crossword puzzles.