A question has been bugging me: Why is it that at this point in our lives, the first section we turn to in the newspaper is the obituaries? I’m dying to know.
Seriously, my close-in-age friends testify to reading the obits as religiously as others check the box scores or stocks.
My friends and I agree that — as much as we can’t stand the thought of losing another friend — our first step is a quick scan for those we know now, then those we shared paths with for any length of time, and lastly those we never knew.
So what is our fascination? Is it a life-measuring contest? Are we comparing what the deceased accomplished to what we have or have not?
Obituary reading appears to be an obsession reserved only for we graying types. For this 80-year-old, it started when Robin Williams died. It suddenly became all consuming. It seemed like not a day went by that we lost a director, a writer, a photographer, an actor. …
But I still haven’t answered the question: Why? So I decided to dig a little deeper — not six feet — to consult the myriad online psychologists who, surprisingly, said nothing surprising.
They tell us that the ritual of reading obituaries — something we as a society have been doing for more than 500 years — can help us make sense of our own impending death if we extract something positive from someone else’s.
We either say to ourselves, “Well at least s/he had a good life” or “Well, I guess it could be worse.”
Needing a little cheering up, I searched for anyone choosing to take a lighter approach to the darker side.
Many did. Some of the funnier obituaries were even written by the subject themselves — before they died, I assume.
One woman started hers: “Trust me, writing this obituary is the last thing I wanted to do. …”
Another wrote: “Once again I didn’t get things my way!”
Families cited how therapeutic it was to laugh and cry their way through writing a humorous obituary about a loved one. One wrote that their mother “was not a mourning person” and preferred milk spewing out of noses rather than tears out from eyes.
A daughter and son wrote of their mother: “… if you want any of her helluva lot of junk, you should wait the appropriate amount of time and get in touch … tomorrow morning would be fine!”
This past July, one family accused a loved one of escaping our mortal realm on purpose — just to avoid making the choice between the two 2016 presidential candidates!
So back to my original question: Why the fascination with obituaries? Psychology Today says it’s “not a fascination with death, but a testament that the reader is still alive.”
This is just another way of saying what I’m thinking: We the living gain a get out of jail free card sense of relief from being allowed at least one more time around the board.
Until next time … keep thinking the good thoughts.
— For more than 30 years, Rona Barrett was a pioneering entertainment reporter, commentator and producer. Since 2000, she has focused her attention and career on the growing crisis of housing and support for our aging population. She is the founder and CEO of the Rona Barrett Foundation, the catalyst behind Santa Ynez Valley’s first affordable senior housing, the Golden Inn & Village. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are her own.