Excerpt from “Day of No Dead”

You read with care and begin to recognize a pattern that either you didn’t notice before or that you simply ignored. Here is the basic format that comes to the fore: Name, date of birth, family background, youth, marriages, life passions, education, achievements and awards. This seemingly simple structure leads you to ponder further.

Cause of death. Why do some obits state it, while others don’t? Usually, those that don’t are write-ups of individuals who died at a ‘natural’ age, anywhere from 70 to 80. The cause of death for these folks should be obvious.

Those that do state the cause of death often do so like this:

Betty died peacefully in her sleep.

How do we know? Doesn’t this kind of jargon assume that sleep is a tranquil experience, universally?
Ever struggle in the grips of a nightmare that’s anything but peaceful?

Of course, this possibility is not mentioned in Betty’s brief obituary:

Betty died some time during the hours of sleep. We know this because it was determined by the coroner’s office. We aren’t certain whether she struggled against death in the last moments because – well – we weren’t there, and she overdosed on prescribed barbiturates and sleeping pills. Accidental or purposeful death? The point is moot. What matters is that Betty was alive and now she is dead. We will never know whether she died peacefully (whatever that means) or fought bravely (ditto) to stay alive, or something or nothing in between.

To be fair, obituaries don’t necessarily have to focus on a person’s actual death or its causes. For many, they should be a celebration of life, like…

Dave has been survived by his faithful wife of 30 years and a grandson and one niece.

Loaded. Life is survival. If you stay married for 30 years, whether those years were happy or productive or rewarding or miserable or painful or the worst 30 years of your life – you are faithful. Dave and his wife spawned one grandson in those 30 years (whatever that means). One niece.

Liz was preceded in death by her father and mother and eldest brother.

Nothing but the facts.

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