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September 18, 2007

Do you read obits?

This question appeared in the “Ask Marilyn” column of Parade: “My husband and daughter read the obituaries daily, which I find strange. Why do some people like to do this?”

I’m not sure why I read them. I could say as Christians we should celebrate everyone’s resurrection. But maybe it’s just an occupational hazard—journalists are taught to respect obituaries because it’s usually the last thing written about a person. And that “last thing” can be fascinating. Like Vernon Carter, a Lutheran pastor who in 1965 led a 114-day vigil to fight segregation in Boston schools. That “last thing” can be funny too. When I was a newspaper copy editor, a family wanted their beloved’s headline to read: John “Big Stick” Beaman dies. The joke in the newsroom: “His pallbearers walked softly and carried a ‘Big Stick.’ ” I still wonder about the story behind his nickname.

Marilyn asked her readers to respond. One said: “If I see a name of someone of whom I knew, I try to reach out to their family ....” Another wrote: “I read the obituaries almost as a sense of history—each person’s life story is a vignette of daily life. Especially interesting are the WWII vets—they were barely out of their teens and did incredible acts of selflessness and courage.”

So is it strange? Or do you, too, check up on the dearly departed?

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