Everyone has a beginning and an end, at least in a physical sense. Spiritually we may all live forever, not in form, but in spirit. But for the sake of living in this world, in this body; with this mind and these memories; this identity and personality, I think about the end—when will it be? How will it be? And when it comes, did I live my life to the fullest, and did I live my life authentically?
So, with these thoughts in mind, my love of life and people, and the curiosity I take into my world, I love reading obituaries. Obituaries give us a peek into the world of another person. They remind me that we are all mortal. They remind me that we could die anytime. They remind me that life is precious. And that death is part of our life, and there is no date we can put on the calendar in preparation for this big event.
It’s a journey—hate that word anymore—is there another word for this? I read the youngest and the oldest and the obituaries under all the photos. I may read about a 19-year-old freshman in college, out on a nature hike, who dies in a tragic accident—shortening the dreams of his or her future and the dreams of a life in the life of loved ones. Or I may read about a 103-year-old who lived to the fullest. For many, their last years were merely sitting enjoying the memories, reflecting on their suffering and their joys, and wondering when they would take their last breath. Some may contemplate when they would be taken from this mortal human existence to another realm, which is usually unknown, unless one may have had a near-death experience and can articulate what dying feels like.
This week, one of the youngest was a 31-year-old young woman. Her obituary was not in the paper, so I looked her up on Facebook—I sometimes do that to get more of the story. It turns out she has had cancer for the last few years. This beautiful young woman, inside and out, posted videos and regular posts on social media during this time. One of her last videos was of her in the hospital giving a sort of progress report after being admitted with no white blood cells and the need for more aggressive drugs. By now, she had no hair, but was able to articulate her present moment experience. What was most inspiring is how hopeful she sounded. Also, at a time when she is most in need of support, she was reaching out to others to offer to include them in her prayers. I don’t know this person, never met her, and we are not friends on social media, but her inspirational message made me feel for her. She died 2½ months after this video.
The most enjoyable obituaries are the ones that tell the dreams and quirks and hobbies and travels and loves of a person who lived a good life. The saddest ones have died “suddenly” with no cause mentioned but often are the result of suicide—someone who could no longer bear to live.
There are so many stories. I read where people were born and who their parents were. I read about their families, careers, charities, travels, and the accolades left by the obit’s author. The obituaries in the New York Times are most interesting—often quite long—almost a mini-biography. As a writer, I could take some and make them a more comprehensive story—a book perhaps, with this person as the main character, fictionalizing the life but including some of the main points written to acknowledge the life they led.
In graduate school, I worked on research about the oldest old. As a health coach and educator, I have always been curious about longevity and how to live a full life for many years. Some of us get to have a long life, and some of us cherish each moment as if it is our last and as if it is the beginning of more to come.
That is how I live my life, as if today is my last day and as if I will live to 100. I often say to my doctors, “These organs need to live another 30 years.” They laugh, but I am hopeful. I am also very spiritual and believe there is more to come beyond this world. Still, for now, I am hoping for more years, more moments, more memories, more time to experience my children and grandchildren, my friends, travel, dreams, and more.
I am grateful for the obituaries that tell so much of a story of a person’s life and remind us that life is precious and how we live it matters.
© 2021 Mary Claybon, All Rights Reserved
Mary Claybon has dedicated her life to healing the body, mind and spirit through her writing and coaching. She is a proud Mom and Grandma from near Cincinnati, Ohio and is owner of her business and brand, Promoting Health: The Middle Way LLC. You can read more about Mary’s work and read her blog at https://themiddlewayhealth.com