I Read Obituaries Every Day for Work. Here are 3 Things I’ve Learned.
Each morning, the first thing I do when I log into my computer for work is open up a newspaper website for the obituaries. Reading about the lives of people I never knew and who no longer live is a strange experience, and it’s taught me a few things about life and the world around me.
I work for a non-profit, and I read over obituaries looking for donors in our database so that we can 1) mark them as deceased in the database so they aren’t contacted for future donations, and 2) send condolences or in some cases even attend the funeral (when that was a possibility). Before this job, I don’t remember ever reading obituaries other than maybe glancing at them while scanning a newspaper. Reading them every day has made me reflect on life (and death) a lot. It’s made me reflect on things I wouldn’t have considered otherwise.
1. Amazing people live(d) in my community
You know when you live in the middle of nowhere and nothing exciting ever happens? That’s where I live. Or so I thought. The city where I live is nothing special; movies aren’t set here, tourists don’t come here, and everyone wants to leave here. And yet… reading about the lives of people who died here shows that amazing people once lived here. I’m talking about people involved in creating TV shows and movies, researchers who made important contributions in cancer treatments, nurses during World War II.
Reading these stories of the past surely means that there are people here now who have amazing stories to tell. Look outside your circle and get to know the people who live around you. Show interest in their experiences and you will see a different side to your home.
2. Life can be thrilling and devastating
I currently work from home, so talking to myself is a regular occurrence. While reading obituaries I have both openly laughed and gasped and teared up. Some obituaries celebrate a life well-lived, full of humour about a mother’s crazy shopping affecting the stock markets, or the cute nicknames shared between lifelong loves. Others are heartbreaking, remembering a life spent fighting illness or suddenly lost too soon.
Some obituaries are short announcements. Some families are private or may not be able to afford longer pieces. Every obituary is emotional — there is sadness and loss.
This has made me think about my own life. What are the highlights? Are the highlights in my memory different than the highlights others will remember of me? What stories will be told of my life and will they be mostly joyful or mostly sad?
Live your life to the fullest extent, seeking to create a life the way you want to be remembered. But recognize that we have no control over what happens or how others remember us. Embrace the exciting moments and deeply experience the sadness. This is life.
3. It’s all about the people. Always.
No matter the obituary. No matter who wrote it. It is always about the people. Family are always mentioned. Those who are mourning and those gone before. Children, parents, spouses and special friends, nephews and nieces, cousins, and friends are included.
It can be easy to get caught up in the stories we want our lives to tell and how we wish we could be remembered. But in all of this, it is the people who are the same in each obituary.
So while you’re living: remember the people. They are the ones who will remember you.
Starting each day with the stories of those who are no longer living is unusual and it’s taken some getting used to. It’s become the highlight of my days. I get to learn, and laugh, and cry, and remember these people and the people who remember them.