Friday, November 5, 2010

Second Person Obituaries

For various reasons, my family tends to take a very matter-of-fact approach to death. As I grew up, it became apparent that this wasn't in fact the norm. Most people seem to avoid contemplating it altogether, and find any significant focus on it to be morbid. I find it more surprising that one could go through long periods of one's life and not reflect on one's own impermanence, but that's human nature for you.

But in the Holmes household, I remember my uncle would frequently read the obituaries each day in the paper, sometimes out loud. I think he was just interested. One of the things he used to point out, which I still find interesting, is the number of  condolence notices written in the second person - 'Bob, you were a great father to us all.'  I guess it takes people a while to come to terms with the fact that their loved one is really gone.

My uncle was of course no man to scorn another man's mourning. But his sadness towards death was devoid of a desire to hide what it was, which allowed him to appreciate the ironies that death entails, and indeed help to make it more bearable (an attitude he maintained when my grandparents died, so he walked the walk here).

And those who tend to view death as a fairly ordinary occurrence are more apt to notice that it's strange to write to the dead through the medium of the public notices of The Sydney Morning Herald. If one's messages are in fact being delivered to heaven, wouldn't they be just as likely to get there if you just wrote it on a piece of paper in your room? And if it's just a public expression to celebrate and mourn the person's life, why address it to the deceased?

I told him that when he dies, I'm writing him a notice in the paper addressed to him personally, done in his honour.

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