5:30 a.m., the alarm rings. I slap my hair into messy pigtails, throw on a neon-yellow technical shirt, leggings, and my running shoes, and strap on an anklet. I’m not much of an accessorizer, especially before sunrise, but I don’t wear the anklet because it’s cute; it’s a Road ID, so if I collapse on the side of the road or get hit by a car, the person who finds me knows who I am and how to contact my family. My husband calls it “the morbid bracelet,” and I guess it should come as no surprise that I often head out the door thinking of my mortality.
An hour later, I grab the paper in the driveway and walk back into the house. If I have a few minutes before the kids start clamoring for me to comb their hair and help them find their shoes, I crack open the paper to my favorite goulishly guilty pleasure, the obituaries. We used to come to Utah a couple of times a year to visit my in-laws, and one of the highlights of the trip, along with the de rigeur visits to Brick Oven and Cafe Rio, was waking up each morning to the Deseret News obituaries. Where I grew up, the obituaries were very basic, just a short paragraph of when someone was born, who survived them, and when their services would be held. But here in Utah, the obituaries are filled with lists of church callings, hobbies and passions, and entertaining tidbits about courtships and vacations, awards and honors. I adore them– they make me smile, make me giggle, and get me misty-eyed, all before seven a.m. I feel like so much of our culture as Utah Mormons is brought to the forefront in the words we choose to honor our departed loved ones.
Reading between the lines, it’s often not too hard to tell when a family is still reeling from a shocking, unexpected death that came too soon. Other times, the obituary is polished and perfected over the months of standing vigil. Still other times, the deceased wrote their own tribute. Sometimes they’ve been carefully edited, other times not so much, and that’s part of their charm. Maybe it’s because I confront my own death each morning when I head out into the darkness, or maybe it’s because I read too many obituaries, but I find myself often thinking about what my survivors would say, and what I’d want them to say.
Anyone else out their share my passion for reading about the dead? If you’ve written an obituary, what went into the process? What would you want people to say about you when you were gone?