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Decaying Obits

Posted by NumberSix , 01 December 2011 · 420 views

My uncle's funeral service today had respectable attendance, better than our wedding. In addition to myself, there was also my aunt the widow, at least six of their seven surviving children, numerous grandchildren, several great-grandchildren, possibly the one great-great-grandchild referenced in their pastor's stirring eulogy, three of his four surviving siblings, possibly a few reps from the city that once employed him (he's still credited by name on their website for one particular project), several of his fellow church members, everyone's various hangers-on, and several compatriots from the local VFW chapter where his Korean war vet status earned him proud membership. He was a patriarch who lived a full life and had nary an enemy, except when relatives got out of line through faults of their own. Even then, he forgave them seven times seventy.

If you'll forgive a few anti-Googling redactions (blame the unique name my very creative grandma gave him), this was his complete obituary:

[my uncle]

[town of residence] - [my uncle], [age], died November 27, 2011. [funeral home], English, IN.

That's not the title. That's the whole thing, start to finish, as it was published in the newspaper of the nearest major city. A single line with less info than a toe tag.

That's not the first time someone in my family was treated like that. Here's my grandma's complete obituary as it ran in the Indianapolis Star back in 2003:

[my grandma], [town where she hadn't lived since at least the 1940s], [age], died June 14, 2003. Arrangements: [funeral home], English, IN.

She had five surviving children at the time, at least fifteen grandchildren, don't ask me how many great-grandchildren, and a ridiculous number of surviving elder relatives and peers. She held several jobs throughout her lifetime, though my subjective opinion is that the part where she helped raise me trumps all that. But her complete printed remembrance barely reached the other end of the column. It wasn't even large enough to clip out and save in a scrapbook, let alone remind any acquaintances what she's done or why they ought to come pay respects.

I'm not sure where to lay the blame. I wouldn't call any of my relatives upper-class, but are obituary fees really that prohibitive? Were the funeral services prepaid for a budget package that only allowed for a Tweet-sized obit? Is my family severely modest to a fault about their achievements and legacy? Do southern Indiana morticians think these things are too hard to write, or that they're just a mortal sin? Is this chore assigned to the nearest blood-related third-grader?

Neither my uncle nor my grandma needed a verbose ten-inch encyclopedia entry like your typical socially active high-society figureheads often net. An inch would've been nice. Even half an inch would've been an improvement. Perhaps a photo? Oh, how spoiled either of them would have been.

I've decided that for the funeral planning for my wife and myself, we're allocating 65% of the budget toward our obituaries. If it helps cut costs, they can store me down below in a six-foot box made of old styrofoam Big Mac containers, hold services in our backyard, and let guests take whatever they want from the pantry in lieu of a post-graveside dinner.

When I pass away someday, I expect there to be words.

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