Celebrate life: Read the obits

Maybe it’s just me, but as I’ve gotten older I tend to read the obituary page a lot more than I used to.

It’s not a morbid thing. On the contrary. I love  the stories of lives filled with  accomplishments and challenges—lives of people who were talented or inspiring or sometimes just downright strange.

Poppa Neutrino

Clearly in the latter category was William Pearlman,  better-known perhaps as Poppa Neutrino who once crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a raft. According to the “Washington Post’s” obit

Theirs was the second successful raft trip across the North Atlantic….But Mr. Neutrino’s party was the first to make the journey on a raft built out of trash.

The obit goes on to chronicle other highlights of Poppa’s Bucket List of a Life.

As Poppa’s daughter, Jessica Terrell, put it,

He died like he lived. Plans in the works for a boat trip to Cuba the following week, a novel in progress, and $4.44 in his bank account.

Charlie Louvin

Charlie was a legendary country singer who performed with his brother Ira as the Louvin Brothers. According to Charlie’s obit, the duo was “…renowned for their gospel songs and lost-love laments, such as “If I Could Only Win Your Love.”

The Louvin brothers also updated many traditional folk songs, such as “In the Pines” and “Knoxville Girl” on their 1956 album “Tragic Songs of Life.

Music critic Neil Strauss, writing in the “New York Times” in 1996, wrote these words,

With some of country music’s most beautiful harmonies, traces of 19th century hymn singing, and vividly rendered ballads about hunting fatalities, railroad accidents and crimes of passion, “Tragic Songs of Life” is almong the best albums ever to have been recorded in Nashville. It speaks for a time that became a memory when Elvis Presley ushered in the era of rock-and-roll.

The obituaries show us our history, our culture, a time gone by. They bring back memories. They make us laugh or make us cry. They celebrate life.

What about you? Do you read the obits?  

photo by  laurenprofeta

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Madeleine Kolb 02/07/2011, 8:17 am

    There are so many wonderful life-stories in the obits. In this morning’s Washington Post was the obituary of Ernest McColloch, Ph.D.–who with biophysicist James E. Till–was the first to identify and isolate stem cells. It was s momentous discovery which Dr. McColloch later said was “accidental.”

  • Corinna 02/06/2011, 9:50 pm

    I read the NYT obits all the time.

    The most fascinating obit I ever read was about a man who discovered caves under the Arizona desert while riding his horse. He kept this discovery secret from all but a small community of scientists so that the caves and environment above them could be preserved. It made me feel like he must have had an incredible amount of grace.

    Cheers,
    Corinna

  • Madeleine Kolb 02/04/2011, 8:51 am

    Carol, Yes, reading the obits is a chance to reflect on one’s own life. And–in the case of an old person who’s died after a long life of doing the work he or she loved–it’s a chance to feel gratitude for his contribution. That’s certainly what I feel about Charlie Louvin.

    A few days ago, I read the obit of Charles Flowers, one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen. I left it on my BF’s desk, since we recently re-watched the movie about the group. Charles Flowers was a talented and honorable man who contributed so much for his country.

  • Carol Tice 02/04/2011, 1:08 am

    Hi Madeleine!

    What a great post. I think it’s a factor of age, but I find myself regularly looking through and reading the obituaries — and reading them with my children. Seeing the heartbreak of young people who have died…and the discomfort these days of finding, increasingly, people my own age.

    Having written a few obituaries myself, they’re a huge responsibility. Summing up a life, in just a few paragraphs!

    To me reading the obits is a chance to reflect on what I’m doing with my life, and how it will be summed up one day. Thinking about that always makes me want to try harder, do better, touch more lives and live more fully and in the moment.
    Carol Tice recently posted..Mailbag- How Much Can Freelance Writers Charge for BloggingMy Profile

  • Madeleine Kolb 02/01/2011, 12:19 pm

    I used to read inscriptions on tombstones when I lived in Boston–I know what you mean about traveling back in time.

    Actually, we can do that in a way. YouTube has a marvelous collection of music, including videos of live performances of great artists, such as Hank Williams or Ray Charles or Conway Twitty or Otis Redding. As affecting as the music are the comments, saying things like my grandpa (or my mother) loved this song and when I hear it, it makes me think of him (or her).

  • Linda/Positive Spin 02/01/2011, 11:16 am

    I don’t read the obits Madeleine but I love reading inscriptions on old grave stones. It could be in a churchyard or in a cathedral but it always makes me wish I could actually speak to the person. There’s so much I’d ask them!

    If only we could ‘time travel’…
    Linda/Positive Spin recently posted..Are You Worried About Getting Older Check This Out…My Profile