He died peacefully at home from various complications.

I read the obits. A few days ago, I read a woman’s obit that ran from the top of the newspaper to the bottom, a dense long column of accomplishments and grateful children. She sang in choirs, raised money for charities, served on the board of directors of a dozen organizations, traveled the world, and could recite the names of all fifty states in alphabetical order. I wondered who wrote her obit.

I remember my dad handing me the obituary he had typed out for my mother on his ancient Underwood typewriter. The letters on the page were uneven, a hitch in the e’s made them rise up just a hair. He’d written it at his big wooden desk, the one he had in the office of our Ben Franklin Store. Hanging on the wall above his desk was a colorized black and white photo of my mother taken just weeks after my brother was born, sixty-two years before. In the photo, she was buxom in a new mother way. She wore a blue dress with white polka dots, and her hair was in curls, nearly to her shoulders. She was standing in front of a big ship. She looked like Betty Grable. My mother may have been 84 when she died, small and grey, but my father saw her as she was in the photo. I knew that. I always knew that.

Nonetheless, he just wrote the minimum for her obit. Her name, his name, her children’s names, and that she had grandchildren. That was it. And then he asked me if it was okay. I said it was.

Today’s favorite obit offered a riddle. He died peacefully at home from various complications. Complications of what? I wondered. The obit didn’t elaborate. Maybe it was too complicated to explain all the complications. Maybe once the obit writer started explaining, the obit would require two columns or three. Maybe the whole page would be needed with diagrams and charts. It seemed clever not to spill the whole beans.  See how it stuck in my mind? Being enigmatic is always attractive.

When you die, you get to see what people found memorable about you. This assumes some kind of heavenly watchfulness of the daily press, I know. But theoretically, if you could read your obit, written by your loved ones or a hired hand, you’d see what you did that impressed people, your talents and accomplishments. Maybe it will be just how you died, “peacefully from various complications,” that will tell the story. That would be okay with me. Less is more.

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Photo: Heather Zabriskie