I find a wealth of information, history, humor and the stirring of my imagination in the obituaries of people—some who I may have heard of and, others who are strangers to me. Addicted to the columns for years, I learn about people driven by need to prove themselves, unexpected heroes and heroines, or another side to a well-known celebrity or politician. The obits, many written by prominent journalists are joined by others penned by loving friends and family. Grief and humor share space with the loneliness of people who have died alone. There are so many stories to tell about so many lives. If the narrative seems to have left a part of life unfinished, the sketches published may encourage a writer to write one of her own.
Obituary comes from the Latin obit or death and has denoted published death notices ever since the 18th century. Concise pronouncements of death were published in America in the 16th century. Lengthier, more comprehensive notices took another 300-years to go to press.
Obits can range from the life of a Klansman who evolved into a civil rights activist to the demise of a Plant named Pluto—demoted by the International Astronomical Union to the level of a humble dwarf planet. Then there are theatrical luminaries and Hollywood stars--who would have thought that Hedy Lamarr, a sex symbol (who shocked the 1930s public when she walked out of water as nude as the day she was born) would become an inventor?
Often the deceased write their own obits or leave instructions to the folk they leave behind. People today often share reminisces about a life well-lived and enjoy a smile and a laugh. Recently, the partner of an opera lover delayed the production, and set the audience and security on edge at Lincoln Center’s Metropolitan Opera House when he ran down the aisle during intermission to sprinkle white powder into the orchestra pit. Turned out to be his lover’s ashes. A fitting tribute to a successful relationship or? Now that gets the creative juices flowing.