Your Obituary, by Rich Paschall

Taken on ‎September‎ ‎03‎, ‎2012, Viewminder

“Karen Lewis was fearless.” It was the opening line of her obituary on the Chicago Sun-Times  website.  The Chicago Teachers Union President had endured treatment for brain cancer in 2015.  In October of 2017 she had suffered a stroke.  She had surgery for a malignant brain tumor.  Through it all she battled on, and was widely respected for her tenacity and survival.

It was no surprise that her death would highlight the courage of her struggles.  There was just one little problem with the story as was mentioned on Lewis’ Facebook page, “Contrary to an unfortunate slip, I am not dead.”

Yes, the 64-year-old labor leader and brain cancer survivor is alive and living in Chicago.

Did you ever wonder how a periodical could publish a lengthy story on a famous person’s life just moments after they die?  Obituaries for prominent people are usually written before their deaths.  They may be updated from time to time and only need minor edits when a famous person finally goes to the great beyond  (or wherever it is you think people go for an “after life”) .  When celebrities drop dead, it is no time to start researching the details of their lives.  Pre-written obituaries are a common practice.  Publishing them while the person is still alive is not.

Few get to learn of their own death while they are still alive.  Apparently Lewis took the error in good humor.  The obituary, which was online for a few hours, was taken down before Lewis or family members had seen it.  She did learn of the opening line, however.  Apparently believing the long time Chicago publication would have to say nice things of the dead, Lewis commented, “I think it’s a mitzvah…but I’m not sure it’s true.”

“James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine, was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of his illness.  The report of my death was an exaggeration.”  – Mark Twain

While Mark Twain was on a world speaking tour in 1897, a London-based reporter was sent learn of the condition of Twain’s health.  If Twain was dead, the reporter, Frank Marshall White, should send back 1000 words to the New York Journal.  If alive, apparently 500 words would do.  Meanwhile, according to legend, one paper had indeed printed an obituary for Twain.  Was the great American humorist amused by this?

White wrote an article that appeared in the NY Journal in June of 1897.  In part he said:

“Mark Twain was undecided whether to be more amused or annoyed when a Journal representative informed him today of the report in New York that he was dying in poverty in London …” 

Twain had sent back in writing what is now an often misquoted response.  Twain’s hand-written response is restated above.

What if your obituary appeared online?  What would it say?  Would it recount that you are “fearless?”  Would it see you as a great humorist?  Would it recount the highlights of your life?  Or would there be little to say?  Would anything written be supplied by relatives after your death?

If someone was charged with writing a thousand words about your life, and you could read them now, how would this influence you?  If the words were kind and encouraging, would this lead you to a better life?  Would you try to live up to the words someone was about to supply upon your death?  Would you try to have all the qualities relayed about you?  Would you try to build on that legacy?

What if the words were not at all flattering?  Would that inspire you to change your ways?  Would you have a Scrooge-like awakening and live a better life?  Would you be more kind?  More generous?  More loving?

We probably do not think much about our own obituaries.  Those who do not have much public standing in the community will not get much more than the standard newspaper notice that includes a list of relatives and the time of funeral services.  But what if you have a little bit of notoriety?  Do you care what is written as your legacy when you are gone?  What influence would there be on your life if you could read your obituary as it would be published today?

Even without online or social media notices, or publication in the local or national newspapers, we will all get an obituary, so to speak, in eulogies at funerals or memorial services.  If these do not exist for you (and why not?) then there are the comments of your family and friends when they gather to honor your memory.  If cousin Lewis is likely to sing your praises, having been a drinking buddy and travel companion, Aunt Bertha might just come along and upset the gladioli cart with her honest opinions of your character.

Your homework assignment before we convene here again next Sunday is to write your obituary.  Pick out the highlights and significant life events.  Write it all down. Is that really what someone would write in your obituary?  Seriously?  If it is not exactly what you want, dear Ebenezer, it may not be too late to change, as the report of your death has been grossly exaggerated.

“Reports of Mark Twain’s Quip about his death…” May 31, 2015
“Karen Lewis See Funny Side Of Her Erroneously Published Obituary,” January 8, 2018


21 thoughts on “REPORTS OF MY DEATH

  1. Marilyn Armstrong February 11, 2018 / 12:47 am

    Garry was was put in an obituary while he was still working — on television — in Boston. He still reads the obits. He says it’s to make sure he isn’t in them.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Garry Armstrong February 11, 2018 / 1:31 pm

        Rich, as Marilyn notes, The Boston Globe published an obit piece years ago when I was still in my TV news prime. It was a very nice piece. Plenty of space and my name was spelled correctly.

        I saved it for a long time until I lost it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. swo8Leslie February 11, 2018 / 2:29 pm

    I read the obits. regularly. Often see the parents of friends that have passed and have been able to reconnect with them while they are still alive. I think everyone should write their own obituary. The I liked the best was short and sweet and I’m thinking I might write much the same for me. “It’s been a blast, see you on the other side.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Rich Paschall February 11, 2018 / 2:48 pm

      I guess short and sweet would be nice. I plan to outlive the bad commenters anyway.


      • Garry Armstrong February 12, 2018 / 8:56 am

        Rich, perhaps you should write your own obit with a personally favored picture. Include comments from friends who praise you. You should end with a sweet line like
        “Goodnight, Sweet Prince”

        – 30-

        Mama Cass is singing to me, right now. I sprang out bed, checking the clock, thinking I was late from a 2:50pm Dental appointment. I shaved and showered in a new olympic time record. I peeked in at a sleeping Marilyn to tell her I was a tad late for the 2:50pm dentist appointment.
        She blinked in annoyance, looked at the clock and said, “Garry, it’s just 9am”.

        Rich, call down and tell them to run my obit.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Rich Paschall February 12, 2018 / 9:11 pm

          As always, I can’t get the newsroom on the phone. We’ll run it another day.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Garry Armstrong February 13, 2018 / 12:33 pm

            Excuses, Rich. Judas Priest! Do you know who I am? RUN the damn piece downstairs! You kids!

            Liked by 1 person

              • Garry Armstrong February 14, 2018 / 2:29 pm

                Okay, sorry, Kid. Forgot you’re ailing. Take the elevator.

                Hey, Spring Training opens today. Tell Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen I want a piece from them.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Rich Paschall February 14, 2018 / 9:13 pm

                  Clark is covering the Metropolis Mets. Jimmy is on rewrites. Elevator is out of order.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Garry Armstrong February 15, 2018 / 12:59 pm

                    Bum elevator, Sorry kid. Try Perry White’s private escalator. Hey, Kid, what do ya hear about those Metropolis Mets? Another big money free agent? JUDAS PRIEST!

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Rich Paschall February 15, 2018 / 11:14 pm

                      Metropolis has money to burn. I am taking the freight elevator!

                      Liked by 1 person

  3. Rebel Girl February 11, 2018 / 9:03 pm

    Great post! I will think on it. I bet writing the truth would change a few peoples attitudes! Or not.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Garry Armstrong February 16, 2018 / 1:13 pm

        Rich, watch out for those freight elevators. Unsavory people use them. I’ll ring Perry White and tell him to send another messenger. Why don’t you take 5 in the cafeteria.

        Liked by 1 person

          • Garry Armstrong February 17, 2018 / 12:34 pm

            You’re okay, kid. Maybe I can get Perry to give you a job in the sports or entertainment department. Remember, kid, just don’t call Perry “Chief”. The old man is losing it. He’s worried about circulation. Lots of people are reading on-line. The old man thinks it’s just a fad.
            JUDAS PRIEST!

            Liked by 1 person

    • Garry Armstrong February 13, 2018 / 12:34 pm

      Truth?? They can’t handle the truth!

      Liked by 2 people

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