Pownce friend Michele Lentz sent this out, and I found it a bit intriguing and blog-worthy. Apparently, the founder of Monster.com is ready to move on from one major life event (career transitions) to another (death).
This blog is all about stories, especially personal stories, so obituaries are actually something relevant. In my first job out of high school, I was a small town radio DJ. One of my most important duties (after keeping the GM from putting his foot in his mouth) was reading off the obits as part of the noon news report. You want to seriously torque off small town old people? Mess up an obituary. That’s all I’m saying. The phones will ring, and you will spend 20 minutes getting dressed down for leaving out the deceased’s second cousin once removed who “stayed with her every day three years ago when she was down with the cancer.”
Sorry. I digress. For what it’s worth, my own life experiences eventually taught me to appreciate why it was so important to those folks that I get the obituaries right.
Anyway… local publications have always printed obituaries, obits drive a certain number of subscriptions, so to a certain extent, publishers have always profited from these notices. Taylor may be doing so a bit more directly, but the fact remains, that those who serve the bereaved professionally in some capacity are essentially profiting from death.
That’s not what I really wanted to talk about here, though. Whether you like what Jeff Taylor is doing or not, some time in your life, your name will likely be in the “survived by” list for someone close to you. In the last four or five years, I’ve personally lost my mom, my grandpa, and my grandma (all three to tobacco-related illness; so, yes, I basically think Tobacco Companies = Satan). I’ve also lost to some aunts, uncles, and other more distant relations over the years.
Bereavement is a really difficult life passage. Obituaries aren’t really for the deceased; they’re for the bereaved. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: stories are how we process and contextualize our lives. We find the meaning for our little adventures here on earth by telling ourselves the story of those adventures. Sometimes they are comic and sometimes they are tragic, and sometimes a mixture of both. An obituary is effectively the epilogue of someone’s story, told for the benefit of those left behind.
We need an ending, or in psychology-speak, we need “closure,” when someone we love’s story is cut off. Obituaries and other memorials are symbolic “endings” that help us process the loss. My theory is that our souls, being eternal, don’t really “get” death. They need symbols to make sense of what has happened.
During my mother’s passing, the funeral home and both newspapers which printed her obituary misspelled her name. Despite the great care we took to spell her unusual name and have the spelling read back to us, both the funeral home and the Courier-Journal actually misspelled both her first and last names (there was no listing for “Reginia Beckham”–just “Regina Beckman”). In an already painful time, it was an insult added to injury. I tried to contact an editor at the C-J for a correction, but got no response, and eventually decided a correction wouldn’t really make a difference.
It’s a small thing, really, but at the time it loomed a lot larger. And it made me sorry for the way I had mentally blown-off those callers back when I was a know-it-all 18 year old deejay.