Obituaries As History Lessons

I am likely not the only fabulousover60 woman who faithfully reads (online or off) obituaries in their local or favorite national newspaper.

No, I did not do this under 50 – maybe not even under 55 or 60 – but at this point, at 65, I do read them. While what could be argued to be somewhat obvious — the older one is the more ‘death is a reality’ rather than something old people do. For me it isn’t so much morbid curiosity (so how did this person die?) as much as considering others’ lives as a whole and considering what (if anything) would be said about me if I died.

Many of us super competitive boomers are, if nothing else, curious how others “did” versus ourselves in the overall game or journey of life. Did I contribute as much to my field? Was I as philanthropic? What about my famous recipe that hundreds adored every holiday? Will I be missed by a large number of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren? Or anyone in particular?

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When reading the New York Times, whose obituaries are often terrific history lessons, I gravitate to people in my own professional field such as the two from 2014 noted below.

Warren G. Bennis, an eminent scholar and author who advised presidents and business executives on his academic specialty, the essence of successful leadership — a commodity he found in short supply in recent decades — died on Thursday in Los Angeles. He was 89.”

I read his books, heard him speak, and used his expertise to help my own. Warren was an un-introduced to mentor of mine.

Lillian B. Rubin, a sociologist and psychotherapist who wrote a series of popular books about the crippling effects of gender and class norms on human potential, died June 17 at her home in San Francisco. She was 90.”

Dying in California clearly ups your chances of making the NY Times. That or it shows that smart people retire to great weather and blue states as they age.

Dr. Rubin used qualitative research — interviewing people – hundreds of them in some cases — to write her many books on aspects of adult development. In her later years she wrote often for the online journal Salon on issues of culture, politics and sometimes, but rarely, about the realities of aging. “Sixty is not the new forty” she wrote. Fabulous absolutely agrees with that point and has said so repeatedly.

*Speaking of death and dying, Cathy called to my attention obituaries’ (local ones) use of odd euphemisms to mean death. Here are some favorites: “ended her battle with cancer”, “entered heaven’s gates”, “peacefully passed”, “went to be the Lord”, “went to her rest” and Cathy’s favorite – “earned her wings”. That line was of course borrowed from It’s A Wonderful Life, the 1946 movie that encouraged people to think of being a good person before one’s death so you could “earn one’s wings” rather than just pass away (that is, die) when the time came.

Its a wonderful life

Mostly though, obituaries remind me of the very limited ways we are truly remembered. Even when famous it is nearly impossible to get more than a column or two. We have to make sure if there is only one thing to say about us, we plan our lives to make that one thing clear. Or maybe not. Actually, I really like something else about Lillian Rubin. She wrote at age 88 that she had mixed feelings about living at that age, and dying too. “Ambivalence reigns”, she wrote, “in death as in life.” Yes, Dr. it does.