Trendy Moi SBD

Suddenly it's all the rage to read obits. I've ALWAYS read them. My mom worried about me because I liked them, but honestly the good ones are great mini-biographies, a snap-shot of a person's life, often without a lot about his death.**

Usually the whole death subject is skipped over, except when there's a "brave battle against cancer" or some other disease. The ones from other centuries are always on about "she bore her long illness with Christian fortitude" I swear, if I get one of those horrible long term diseases? There will be nothing about bravery. It'll be "she took as many drugs as possible to not feel any pain or fear, and went bellowing and complaining like a coward." Bravery is severely over-rated.

Once at a party, I got into a discussion about the obits with another fan, and the guy informed me that "died suddenly at home" is code for heart attack or suicide. If the subject is under 35, we assume suicide, unless the mourners are supposed to contribute to a medical foundation that is searching for cures for a sudden-death sort of illness.

Usually we obit afficionados have to guess about cause of death. Not in the case one of my all-time favorites obits from years ago. A guy died of AIDS back when people didn't talk much about AIDS and he wanted to make sure the whole world knew exactly how he died. His obit made it to the front of the Frederick News-Post. (I think. Or maybe just the front of my brain? I know I contributed to his AIDS related charity of choice just because of his obit. I wrote a note to his parents saying I didn't know him but wished I had and how he seemed wonderful. I didn't send it--I didn't tend to send the impulsive notes I wrote in pre-common-email days. )

Okay, enough with the morbid stuff.

The best obits are real descriptions of the person. I don't think they're the ones written by professionals. My guess is the best ones are written by the people themselves or maybe a good friend. Relatives seem to want to list how many, many relatives are mourning the person and what a loss they feel. I don't want to hear about the mourners. I want the person who shuffled off to get one last say.

I like the details that make you feel like you know the person, and even might have considered her sort of a pain in the butt. (like the guy whose obit stated that his signature line was "so how about them sox?" every time there was an uncomfortable silence.) Even all the lists of organizations make you wonder, what the heck did he do with those Elks and Moose? Did he show up for the special dinners or was he there every week? Why did he want the mourners' money contributed to a Little League team? Is that his idea or his family's?

My husband claims I'm morbid. Sure, I am--but that's not why I read obits. There, in a few paragraphs, is everything a person did and accomplished and cared about for all the time they had on earth and what's more of a celebration of a life than that? Occasionally good reading, too.


**The older ones went on about cause of death with some gusto.
Here's one from Longtown, near Cumbria England in 1807
A more rapid series of calamity in one family than the following, we have seldom heard of - a few weeks since, in the course of a single week, the whole of the rising family of Mr Harding of Ringan Hills near Brampton, consisting of two sons and as many daughters, were swept off the stage of life by the ruthless hand of death. This disease was an infectious fever, introduced by a servant newly come to the house, who had just recovered from that disease.


  1. That has to be the strangest SBD ever. Where's the romance? Le petit mort?

    Have you read the Hiaasen's book Basket Case? The protag is an obit writer. I never did write a full review on that book, but it deserved one. I loved it.

  2. 'read the Hiaasen's book'

    i rite like cheezburger kat.

    On a lighter note: you know the program, "To Catch a Predator," where this camera crew runs a sting operation to catch guys trolling for underage sex on the internet? Karen's watching it right now, and she informs me that Cialis is one of their advertisers. Heh.

  3. Anonymous10:59 PM

    you know, katie, both your mom and your dad had terrific obits.
    my dad sent me your mom's and maybe your dad's too.
    I wa sso grateful, I loved your parents almost as much as I love you.


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