Reading the Obituaries

This is a bit of a rambling post and it is going to be a little morbid. Consider yourselves warned.

Research for murder mysteries means a certain amount of time spent in the obituaries. They’re a great resource, even if it’s a bit on the creepy side. I’ve found popular names at different ages, a person’s history, various ways to say “died.”

When I worked in a hospital, the nomenclature was “expired.” It’s a pretty clinical word on one hand, but on the other it sounds like someone went past their “best by” date. Makes one want to look for a bar code, maybe on the bottom of the foot. There was also the expression “celestial discharge.” Medical professionals can have a pretty bleak sense of humor.

So far in my research I have seen:

  • entered into eternal rest
  • in her own time and on her own terms, she spread her wings and took her flight home (I think this is code for suicide during a terminal illness)
  • passed away (gotta love the classics)
  • went to meet her Heavenly Father
  • departed this (earthly) life
  • passed into eternity to join her other family members

No matter how you dress it up, it still means the same thing.

I can only read them for so long without getting a little twitchy. I believe I’m glad I won’t be around to read my own. One life, summed up in just a few words. How do you do that? Pick what matters about a person, especially when they’ve lived for generations? How many people’s lives have they touched?

Some of these describe family connections, whether by birth or marriage. Some go on to describe a person’s hobbies or organizations, but you really can’t get the essence of a human being in just a few paragraphs.

This gives me a new appreciation for short stories. I spread out my character descriptions and development through a couple hundred pages. A short story writer has to condense that, give you a character you can identify with/sympathize with/be fascinated by.

One of my favorite short stories is by Somerset Maugham. It’s called The Verger. It’s about a church caretaker  who is let go because it is discovered he can’t read. Never mind that literacy was not exactly commonplace at that time, never mind that his job didn’t require him to read, out he went because of someone’s misguided ideas of “improvement.” If you can find it, read it. It’s a wonderful story.

I may put a short story together about Zofia and Dodson. It’s a challenge and I’m not sure I’m up to it. I’ll keep you posted.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Reading the Obituaries

  1. This has been the most bittersweet week of my life. Last Sunday one of my posts was “Freshly Pressed” by WordPress. But three people I know died in the past week–forget the euphemisms. They are dead. An 82-year-old uncle, a 58-year-old co-worker and a 29-year-old son of one of my friends. And I lost my 92-year-old father a few months ago. At any age, dead is dead. Screw the “passed away” stuff.

  2. Short stories really are hard to do well. That’s why I rarely read them. They’re so hit and miss.

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