Friday, December 03, 2010

Personal Ads and Obituaries


I have long had a curious habit of reading personal ads and obituaries. I find it fascinating how people represent themselves, how a life of dreams and experiences and sorrows can be condensed into a couple of paragraphs.

Although it's the rare personal ad that isn't written by the person themselves (I have come across a couple written by a well-meaning daughter for their single mother), I know to take them with a grain of salt. Of course a person looking to embark on a relationship is going to phrase things in a positive light, and reading between the lines can be more revealing than the ad itself.

Obituaries are another matter, although they may require a similar reading between the lines. My father died last week, and his obit was a marvel of things not mentioned. Somehow I never realized that obituaries are usually written by the family of the deceased - I guess I assumed that the person carefully crafted their own words of remembrance. I recognize that people would generally want to be remembered in a favourable way, and that survivors would want to focus on the happier moments, and that the choices that are made in times of difficult emotion tend towards what gives comfort.

But I think the best words I have heard in the aftermath of my father's death were, "Well, his struggles are over now." That feels the most true to me.

Peace to you, Dad.

11 comments:

  1. Sorry to hear about your Father. I lost mine a few years ago, and I well remember the flood of thoughts and feelings and memories.
    You are right, when they go because of sickness, the fact that they stop struggling is a comfort. I see my mother suffer and I wonder why doctors are trying to keep her alive instead of letting her go and putting an end to her pain.

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  2. My Condolences Heather, no matter what the stories of his life, I guess he will me missed. All the best...

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  3. So very sorry... and mostly for the "things not mentioned". My heart goes out to you!

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  4. My condolences to you, Heather.

    My friend used to call personal ads "seekings," (as in "SWF seeks SWM..."). I think maybe you could look at obituaries a bit the same way, as a kind of place from which one moves forward, also seeking.

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  5. Anonymous2:59 AM

    Hello Heather,

    As you know, I lost my Mom on November 13th, just shortly before your Dad passed away. Like you, I just didn't truly realize that all the things that we do when somebody close to us dies must be done by us. I don't know what I was thinking. I guess I just thought that there were little elf helpers that appear out of nowhere and take care of all the preparations for the funeral/memorial service and other things like writing obituaries.

    In my family's case, my Dad announced the day after Mom passed away that we should all sit down at the dining room table and start working on the obituary. First we checked the cost on the newspaper website and decided how many words we could afford. Then we started jotting down descriptions of Mom's personality and interests and her basic life history. The first draft had to be edited quite a bit. I think it took us a couple of hours before we could come up with something that we all approved of.

    It is true what you say.... Obituaries are a marvel of things not said. Only those words that have been sifted again and again make it into the final print. There is so much we left out about Mom. We didn't write about her fiery, passionate Quebecois temper or her habit of sneaking out in the mid-afternoon to smoke a secret cigarette and a thousand other character traits. So the obituary could hardly be called an accurate portrait of Mom but that's OK because by writing it and talking about her and choosing what to leave in and what to leave out we, just our small family, did in fact, take a really, really good look at who she was, or who we believe she was. It was a wonderful experience. There was laughter followed by tears, sadness and happiness. In the end the obituary itself wasn't really important. It was the writing of the obituary that I will always remember.

    I hope your Dad is at peace. I'm quite sure my Mom is not. She would have found that too dull. I don't doubt that she is at a large party in the after-life meeting loads and loads of new people and enjoying herself.

    Jean-Pierre

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  6. When the "things not mentioned" are also things not resolved it can be extremely difficult. My prayers for you and your father.

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  7. yes, I like those comforting words too. knowing that he is in a better place regardless of how you may define it. and compressing a whole life into a paragraph is so crazy, you end up just putting down the facts. peace to you during this time of adjusting to him having gone to the great beyond.

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  8. So sorry to hear about your father's death. You will be in my thoughts.
    Even if the loss of a parent is a fact of life, it is also inevitably a sort of turning point, whether we realise it at the time or later.

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  9. Very sorry to hear, Heather. Hope your mind is at peace after all this.

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  10. Apologies for being a day late and a dollar short, as the saying goes, but I wanted to express my condolences on the death of your father, Heather. Feelings might be mixed but it's still a sad thing to lose a parent.

    It also reminded me that Dec 6 would have been my dad's 100th birthday. Though he's been gone a long time and we occasionally had our differences, especially when I was a rebellious teenager, I still miss him a lot.

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