2006.03.08 Obituaries offer entertainment

Written by David Green.

“Someone lost their squirting rose

There’s his red nose on the ground

No one’s seen his painted smile,

He’s been gone for quite a while

Something bad happened to a clown.”

                        -Warren Zevon


By RICH FOLEY

I suppose I could really use another hobby, considering that I seem to be spending a lot of time scanning through obituaries of strangers lately. Since some newspapers (not this one) started the practice of charging for obits and running whatever the funeral home submitted, some rather odd ones appear at times.

For instance, few people seem to merely pass away or die anymore. Most paid obits now have some fancy way of describing it. My favorites are the ones that say Mr. or Mrs. Whoever “went to be with the Lord.” I always wonder if they really died, or are they just visiting? Do you think maybe He will send them back when He gets tired of them?

The hobbies and pastimes are getting stranger, too. Obits used to be full of people who were avid golfers, avid hunters, and so on. Now we have (and I’m changing the names) Bob, who watched Adam Sandler movies; Jim, who enjoyed eating bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches; Leah, who was an extreme fan of strawberries; and Don, who had a taste for Skittles.

There’s also Lori, who liked reading romance novels while sipping tea, and Pam, who was known for “sharing her bakery skills in the form of superb chocolate chip cookies, brownies, cinnamon rolls and icebox dessert.”

I also enjoyed learning the fact that “Michelle’s” favorite Joyce Meyer quotation is, ‘Is your fruit being squeezed?’” And don’t forget, “God needed a good laugh, that’s why he took ‘Henry.’”

And then there was the somewhat sad case of “Carol,” whose obit stated that “She was a very giving person who always did for her family and others but it was not reciprocated.” The obit continues on with the normal listing of survivors, just so there’s no doubt as to who the ungrateful ones are.

But the strangest obit of all time, as far as I’m concerned, belonged to a Toledo woman who passed away back in 2004. Never have I seen such a collection of unknown words, odd phrases and self-congratulations in such a small space. I’ll call the person “Betty.”

First we learn that her “distinctive articulation and fastidious appearance hallmarked her style.”  That’s bragging a bit, I guess, but not that bad.

Two paragraphs later, though, we discover that she “embodied eurythmy and embraced hospitality, harmony, respect and nourishment for body and soul.” My dictionary doesn’t include eurythmy, but I suspect it’s a misspelled form of eurhythmics (not related to the Dave Stewart/Annie Lennox singing duo of almost the same name). Simply put, Betty was supposedly graceful.

Also, her “erudition and avocations developed through avid reading, a penchant for listening, a connoisseurship of the arts, dance, music and food, concern for humanity, unwavering commitment to civility and belief in a transcendent spirituality of a universal pneuma touching every sentient being.” I guess if I’m ever challenged to use the words erudition, penchant, connoisseurship, pneuma and sentient all in one sentence, I’ll now know what to say, even though I can’t find the word “pneuma” in my dictionary, either.

But wait, there’s more. Betty “assiduously cultivated her relationships” and her “greatest achievements and most universally-recognized strengths were her ebullience, aplomb and dignity.” Well, that’s nice to know.

Finally, there was her “sang-froid in the face of the contumely.” Dumbing it down to college graduate language (after some research),  I think that Betty was not easily humiliated. Why couldn’t the obit just say that?

Betty had no visitation prior to a graveside service, possibly to allow mourners an extra day or two to attempt to decipher her obit. In lieu of flowers, I’m hoping her friends all donated a really big dictionary and thesaurus to the library of their choice in her memory. I’m sure that would be what the universal pneuma would consider the contumely thing to do.

– March 8, 2006 

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