Obits can be such a hoot.
I made the protagonist of my mystery novel, “Up Yours!,” a celebrated writer of death notices for The Los Angeles Times, so famously superb at his craft that he was titled the Charles Dickens of obits. But nothing I wrote on his behalf matched some actual obits in The Times.
I know this because my wife, Carol, is a serial reader of obits, devouring them daily, from top to bottom, every line, then reading between the lines. Not celebrity obits whipped up by newspapers, just the pay-to-publish ones that allow a friend or loved one to say just about anything short of advocating violence or overthrow of the government.
This is no morbid obsession on her part, but clearly she is fascinated (read: hooked). How enlightening to share breakfast with one’s personal obit guide. Someone who highlights, in yellow, passages in death notices she finds moving or mysterious or funny or written in ways that raise more questions than they answer. Like this one:
HELEN FAY BERNSTEIN
They’ll never get it.
Was Helen misunderstood? Too hip for the room? And who are “they?” What will they never get? Have they tried to get it? Do even they know they haven’t gotten it?
Another send-off bids adieu to a swinger who “loved and left four women who still care for him.” There was full disclosure: their names were listed ahead of other survivors.
On another list there had been someone named Bill, but a lot of good it did him, as his brother noted bitterly:
He was callously disregarded for a well-deserved heart transplant from an arrogant heart transplant team. Bill did not fit their “perfect profile” as an ideal “image.” Bill wasn’t famous, rich, didn’t publish, compose or produce or build a wing, but Bill didn’t need to die. Bill was “‘sentenced.”
On a lighter note, there was the life of the party who “entertained” people with impressions of Winston Churchill, Maurice Chevalier and Frank Sinatra. But did he fare better than Helen? Did they get it?
Also, there was the “great dessert lover.” Every dessert we eat, said his obit, “will be in memory of Chuck.”
Also, good old Marvin, whose “profane and often offensive sense of humor” made him “anything but boring.”
Also, the adventurer who at age 75 spent two weeks in a tent in Antarctica.
Also, “righteous” Clara—I’d have titled her heroic—who during World War II saved the life of Frederic by hiding him with others in a farmhouse outside of Berlin. After the war, she married him.
Also, Thomas, who was 101 when he died, but “noted toward the end he really felt like 103.”
And man, oh man, there was card slick Irving, who played blackjack so well “he was banned from all the casinos in London.”
And the long-haul trucker who was always joined in his cab by Uncle Bernie. Wouldn’t think of hitting the road without Uncle Bernie. Uncle Bernie had to be at his side at all times, riding shotgun. Uncle Bernie was a Doberman.
Hands down my favorite obit, though—earning a standing ovation—was printed just last week, its eulogy of Lyn ending this way:
Donations in her memory are to be directed to anyone fighting against Trump.