Category Archives: death

O-Bits

What’s better than sitting on the back deck early in the morning with a cup of coffee and the obituary page? I’ll tell you what: having a cigarette while you do that — but I digress.

The obits are certainly one of those things that are better on paper. Something about the ephemeral nature of newsprint that matches our own brief shelf life. That’s pretty deep, if I don’t say so myself.

But today, obits live forever online — as long as you don’t mind them served up with a few ads.

I did a completely random check to see what ads appear on the obit page and here’s what I came up with.

OK, Natalie Merchant at Tanglewood. Personally, listening to Natalie Merchant would make me feel better if someone died. Some might say her music could make you feel worse, but if it takes your mind off your grief, that’s a win-win in my book.

And PODS? Well, moving is often a byproduct of someone’s death — or at least getting rid of their stuff, so I judge both of these ads to be contextually appropriate and useful in your time of grief.

What do obits cost? Here’s a rate card I got from the Times Union, and believe me, if you’re going to have an elaborate obituary, it will cost some money. A few basics:

The first 10 lines are free the first DAY that the obituary runs, the customer pays for those lines every time after that.

After the first 10 lines each additional line is $4.75 per line with an additional $16 service charge.

A line constitutes roughly 22-25 characters including spaces and punctuation.

So, they throw in the first ten lines, which is maybe 250 characters, or, less than two Tweets. Want a picture? That’s $47.50. Cash up front unless you’re a funeral home — and yes, they have procedures to prevent fake notices from being placed.

I advise you to write your own obituary. This will take a lot of pressure off your loved ones, and hopefully, they’ll publish whatever you leave behind, regardless of cost. Seriously, do you think your family is going to edit your obituary? I mean, I might do that — but remember, my edits are always to make your work better.

Sudden Death

“This is nice because if I die, there will be less of my stuff to sort through.”

That’s what I said this morning when I opened the door to my newly tidied closet.

It’s hard not to think about dropping dead when you reach my age — and I suppose it doesn’t help that my wife reads me the obits of guys in their early 50s every morning.

My father died at 62, but it may have been lifestyle that lead to the second heart attack. There is some longevity in his family, but that didn’t help him; one of his sisters is over 90-years-old, and another who turns 90 in September, is in better shape than most 70-year-olds.

So, I’m starting to plan there are some things to do in case I die:

Write an obituary. You shouldn’t don’t trust anyone else with this job. If you die suddenly, somebody will get stuck doing it who has other things on their mind, which is why there are so many half-assed obits in the paper. Nope, DIY is the way to go.  I’m considering writing mine in the first person, which is something you don’t see very often — and I’m leaving a space for cause of death. Seriously, what’s the point of obituaries being so evasive about that? Don’t make people guess — just say how you died.

The funeral home experience. I like the idea of having an iTunes playlist that they can put on during the wake. I’ve already picked out some of the songs, which include some unlikely things like Johnny Horton’s Battle of New Orleans, and Mary Hopkin’s Those Were the Days, songs I loved as a child. I might put a few things in there for laughs, like Seasons in the Sun. A lot of people do some sort of slideshow, which is also a nice touch.

The Funeral. I just hope some people show up! I suppose it’s a good idea to choose a few readings, and some churchy songs. On the short list are Simple Gifts and Amazing Grace. Morning Has Broken is nice, and Battle Hymn of the Republic, while bombastic, can be a real showstopper. I’d also like Danny Boy.

And as for my mortal remains? Cremation. I once joked that I want my cremains mixed with the dog food, but that may not be good for them. The ashes  can be buried if you feel the need to bury something, but if not, take them down to the ocean and pour them in the water. That will do. Don’t do it on a windy day.

Spring Has Sprung

Around here, spring comes in fits and starts. Everybody has a different idea on when it begins, but me? I was finally convinced that spring is here this morning during my run, when I noted three indisputable signs of the season:

1. Peepers According to my research department (Wikipedia), peepers “are heard early in spring not long after the ice melts on the wetlands.” This morning I noted that the peepers are peeping — and while the wetlands near my house are diminishing, thanks mostly to hideous and ill conceived residential development, the peepers still peep.

2. Skunks I don’t know where the skunks go in the winter, but in the spring they emerge from their hidey holes and stink up the neighborhood. Never champs at crossing busy roadways, I found one this morning that had become the proverbial dead skunk in the middle of the road, as imortalized by Loudon Wainwright III.

3. Worms Another mystery of nature, the spring brings worms who slither out onto the sidewalks and driveways after rain. There were many of them this morning, albeit very skinny ones, for it has been a long winter. It is my observation that they do not stick to running shoes. Could squished worms be used to improve a product or process? Perhaps.

So, welcome spring! None of us will be here forever, so don’t take it for granted.

Less Talking, More Shooting

SPOILER ALERT! Didn’t see Walking Dead on 3/11? Stop reading.

On “The Walking Dead” this week, Shane plots to kill his former best friend and the show’s protaganist, Rick Grimes. He lures him away alone and they stop in a clearing. Instead of just shooting Rick, Shane launches into a bunch of chatty nonsense — and WHAM, Rick has the opportunity to shank Shane. This is a prime example of what’s referred to as evil gloating.

Evil gloating, or as Roger Ebert called it, The Fallacy of the Talking Killer,  is all about bad guys who can’t shut up — and lazy film and TV writers who lean on the technique to build tension.

Outside of Hollywood, people who are going to shoot you don’t deliver a lecture about what they’re thinking and how you’re going to die. No, they just start shooting. How many people have slipped away thinking, “Hey, wait! You didn’t talk before shooting me!”

No. The real world is cold and brutal and things fly at you without any preamble. Even if you did have a chance, you’re probably not going to foil someone intent on getting you. And you won’t even come back as a zombie to even the score.

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades

I don’t know about you, but I’m mildly concerned about the giant asteroid passing by Earth this evening. Sure, that’s irrational –but hey, you never know.

So, how large is this chunk of space rock? According to news reports, it’s as big as:

  • An aircraft carrier
  • The Empire State Building
  • A skyscraper
  • A city block
  • Four city blocks
  • Four football pitches

While I like “four football pitches” it doesn’t really convey volume, does it?Anyway, I hope to see you tomorrow. If not, bon voyage!

On the Death of Steve Jobs

The outpouring of grief over Steve Jobs is not unexpected. He was a brilliant innovator, inspiring business leader, a role model — in short, a remarkable guy. But that’s not why I was moved by his death. What touched me was that he was only 56-years-old.

It’s different when we lose someone who’s made it to a ripe old age. Of course we’ll miss them, but when someone goes before their time, that’s tragic.

Dedicated readers of the obituaries, like me, think about this every day. Look how young he was, we say to ourselves. We try to read between the lines to discover the cause of death, and are silently thankful it wasn’t us.

Now that I’m pushing 50, 56 seems very young. And I bet when I’m 70, 76 will seem too young as well.

Remains of the Day

When you’re dead you can’t really control what happens to you, but I’ve left some funeral instructions anyway.

I’ve written an obit and given a few basic guidelines on what to do with me (cremation). If you want to bury something, the ashes will do. There are also a few musical selections for the service: Simple Gifts (Shaker Hymn), Battle Hymn of the Republic, and Barroom Hero by the Dropkick Murphys.

But I digress. What I do not want is to be flushed down the toilet.

In Belgium, funeral directors are seeking permission to to dissolve corpses in chemicals so their liquefied remains can be sent down the sewer. The method is said to be more environmentally friendly than firing up a crematorium and burning you to a cinder, which uses quite a bit of fuel and releases your carbon into the atmosphere. Melting you would leave behind a small pile of silty ash that could probably just go down the drain with the rest of you.

The dissoving in chemicals part sounds good. I imagine you could go down to the boat launch and pour me into the river. That would be cool. Or maybe it would be interesting to have my murky slurry shot out of a hose by my fellow volunteer firefighters. Don’t get any on you!

What concerns me is the idea of getting flushed down the toilet. That’s terrible, terrible  symbolism. And what would you tell the Roto-Rooter man if the pipes get clogged up?