OBITUARIES-A general discussion


1) Where I grew up in the 40's and 50's in Vancouver, B.C.. my memory of the obituary section - which was of no interest to me as a child -did not include photos and were confined to noting birth and death dates along with the names of relatives and mortuary arrangements. Little else was added as presumably interested parties would share that information at the funeral. Besides, obituaries cost hard earned money.

2) When our family arrived in Ottawa 30 years ago, I was struck by the ostentatious obituary announcements complete with photograph; often of the deceased at a younger age. My witticism was to ask why everyone was smiling in their photos. Because they were dead? Hardly. The way I explained it is that before the appointed time of death, a photographer (probably sent by the Devil who seems to have foreknowledge of such matters) knocks on your door and asks to take a free photo. You always smile at anything 'But who covers the cost for your services?' Your relatives. Dark humour, indeed, but more serious observations follow.

3) Ottawa obituaries, or the 'old white guys section of the newspaper' run competition to the ancient Pharaohs and their Pyramids in establishing their pecking orders after death. While some deaths are of military personnel, most listings read like a 'who's who' of the Upper Crust. All their memberships are paraded like so many trophies on the wall which have been long forgotten by everyone. The CEO is dead, who is the successor?

4) Foreign postings are a must as the entire family is thrilled with having their horizons broadened (in some cases, in a country run by some local butcher of a leader). Settling back in Ottawa eventually to be with family is often found to be distanced in a retirement community where the seniors don't know anyone. 'Keeping a stiff upper lip' as the British would have it as the only mention of the word 'divorce' is in reference to a second family as our hero continues on 'irregardless'; that is, until the relatives get to praise the care staff for changing the adult diapers on 'Lord Batty'.

5) I once met a former enlisted man working in a 'stationary' office who stated that his wife was tired of living 'out of a suitcase' while he was in the military. His story was not uncommon among the rank and file. One teenager identified herself to me as an 'army brat'; definitely not upper crust talk. (The greatest fear of the CEO is that his son marries such as the above.)

6) As to children, elementary and younger children make their friends wherever they go; not so teen-agers where peer associations are all important. As a high school teacher in an affluent area, I talked to such ones. The one posted to Moscow felt isolated from community other than his immediate school as his English-speaking school was divided by a wire fence from the Russian one hence no communication due to language differences. A second one in many such world English schools, claimed the best one for him was in Tokyo. One Insurance executive, realizing only those who take foreign postings can become CEO's, turned down an Asian assignment as he wanted his children raised in Canada...there goes the fancy obituary!

7) Other parents 'park' their kids in boarding school such as much travelled author John Gunther, whose estranged wife wrote a book entitled Death be not proud after his death which included many of his son's heart wrenching letters (Big Bang's 'Leonard' is the TV parody of 'bad parenting' with 'Howard' never recovering from his father's desertion). At age 6, son was so proud that he had learned to swim with help from the School PE Coach; a highlight missed by his absent father. The letter concluded..'I miss you so much.' At age 7, he learned to ride a bicycle with this final comment...'I hope to see you soon'. And so son's schooling proceeded as he sought different ways to fill in his father's absence...My #5 teacher was pleased with my science project on volcanoes with which he helped me. At age 14, he was diagnosed with incurable brain cancer so they moved his graduation up to age 15 before he died. He rolled down the aisle in a wheelchair to accept the award. His father was present.

8) As one estranged from my family by my own choice, I must look not to have a funeral (although my crypt is paid) which does not particularly bother me in that funerals are for the living, not the deceased. When I die, my story is complete at that time, for it is left to others to fulfill their destinies in their own manner. In the wise words of my late mother deceased these many years... 'You need not think of me in the years after I am gone, but if you do, try to think of me with kindness' which I do as the sole beneficiary of the devotion to her son. (even here, I quipped...oh, where are you going? ...oh, you fool, you... she responded.)

9) My variation on the 'photographer at the door', is to have a requiem with individuals whom I have known for years but do not expect to see again. In brief, we relive the highlights of our lives together inside of a few hour visit or by letter as I do not see speaking at a funeral of the old times having any interest for young people in attendance. In the event these 'old foggies' pre-decease me, I expect to follow up with an earlier photo(s) and my printed requiem. it my living will if you want.

10) While the lawyers always have the last word on you, the second to last word goes in my case to the funeral director asking him to observe a half minute of silence and pronouncing this phrase: 'Here lies an ethical man' whether anyone is in attendance or not. A cynic would say that a director under these circumstances would not even get out of his chair sending the gardener to do the be it; gardeners are my kind of people.

Crossing the Bar  A.L. Tennyson


Sunset and evening star /  And one clear call for me! / And may there be no moaning of the bar,/  When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,/Too full for sound and foam,/ When that which drew from out the boundless deep/ Turns again home

Twilight and evening bell,/  And after that the dark!/ And may there be no sadness of farewell,/  When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place/ The flood may bear me far,/ I hope to see my Pilot face to face/ When I have crossed the bar.