I know... this is morbid: I look at obituaries. Someone I respect a great deal told me that was how he obtained so much information, and then my grandmother has always enjoyed reading them. There is a great deal of information that one can obtain from a few words, sentences, and phrases about the years that span one's life. It is sad that several sentences or paragraphs can sum up a life, no matter what kind of life an individual led. Yet, there it is in print. So upon a great deal of reflection, earlier this week I could not resist looking at the obituaries in the New York Times. When I started to scroll through the names and images, the news about acclaimed author John Updike had not yet hit the wire. But others stared back at me. In fact, the page was filled with faces who passed away in 2008 - a collage of death. I know, morbid... but does it have to be?
I looked at the names, faces, and short biographies and thought about the extraordinary lives that each person led (sometimes in a very short time period - think Heath Ledger for example). The "Notable Deaths of 2008" listed people like Paul Newman, Eartha Kitt, Bettie Page, Michael Crichton, Isaac Hayes, Cyd Charise, Tony Snow, and Tim Russert. Causes of death ranged from age, to suicide, to cancer, to heart disease to stroke. Some of the causes of death are avoidable - while others are not.
However, each name, cause of death, and image led me to think a bit more about my own life and mortality. What did I want to leave behind? What would people say about me? Truth be told, I have pondered this question since my stroke, and I strongly believe that what people would say now differs a bit, just enough, from what they would say before that event. I might give a little more, there might be a bit more selfishness on my part but it is for the right reasons. I might care more for those who are dear to me, and close the circle of my friends to make it a bit smaller. At the same time, I might have reached out to old friends who knew me "when"... It is not such a bad thing. I suppose obituaries are a way of celebrating the life that was and putting on display for the world to see. I hope however, that for me, my life is celebrated now, rather that later, when I cannot enjoy all that it brings.