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The significance of obituaries

I’m a daily scanner of the obituaries in the four newspapers that I read  in USA and UK (all now online, unfortunately.)  Why this obsession?

True, at 90 I’m on the cusp of life and death myself, yet the instinct to study the lives of others recently deceased goes longer and deeper than that.

After perusing the lists of the recently dear departed, I only read the obits. of people who interest me: How did they achieve what they did?  How long did take them? What was their particular significance?  Particularly fascinating to me are the stories of WW2 veterans who were in dangerous combat situations, through skill and luck survived, then went on to live to be 90 or even 100.

Bear in mind that early in life it was my job to write obituaries.  As a newspaper reporter from age 16  I was often sent to the homes of just bereaved families to  seek out the backgrounds.  I was never turned away, people seemed honored that their loved one deserved being in the local paper.

Later in life I’ve felt obliged to compose the obits. of colleagues in mutual campaigning movements, giving these articles a deeper description through familiarity.

There’s some strange feeling in the words of the unknown person  who opined:  “You are not really dead until everybody who knew you is dead, too.”

—Derek Humphry  01/12/2021

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