Thursday, January 5, 2012

Frustration with Obituaries

I read an obituary this morning and found myself annoyed. frustrated. irritated. sad.

This woman, not even completing 6 decades of living, was so dear and loved. She left behind people who love and miss her deeply. People who are different because she lived and breathed and invested.

And I read her obituary filled with words that spelled out facts about her life. Like a middle school biography report. 

Isn't this how it usually is when you open the paper and see pictures of the deceased staring back? They are surrounded by words that relay facts. 

Where they lived. Where they died. Where they were born. The year they graduated high school. Their major in college. Their occupation(s). Their previous employers. Maybe some hobbies or interests. Family left behind.

Is that it? Is that what a life is reduced to? Is this what we choose to say of someone who has died? For most of us, this will be the last (and maybe first) piece of prose published about us. And this is it? That he likes to travel? Or she graduated in Wisconsin? That he retired from General Motors?

For 35 years I have learned and am attempting to unlearn this all-powerful lie...that my value is based on my performance. That what I produce defines my worth. 

I have heard the voices shouting that more is better...more letters behind my name...more achievements on my resume. I have succumb to the noise of society shouting success is about accolades and accumulation of wealth. This world we live in weighs one's importance upon that which can be produced, accomplished, performed.

And when I turn to the obituaries, the final words printed of someone keep feeding that lie..that a life is summed up by a list of information and achievements.

So, forgive me if this sounds like a soapbox rant. Or don't. But there is something on my mind. A realization that frustrates the heart of this recovering "over-achieving, people-pleasing, live-by-everybody-else's expectations" person.

What I realize is I don't want an obituary that talks only of the cold hard facts of my life. I don't want my photo from better days printed next to information one could look on Wikipedia if I was actually well-known.

When you bring my life to a boil and then leave it to simmer, I want to find that what is left has very little to do with facts that can be defined with numbers. I want life-filled words next to a picture of a person whose body is now lifeless.

  • I want rich, deep, soul-defining words there. 
  • Words that speak of my character. 
  • Words that help paint a picture of what I lived my life for.
  • Words that leave someone wishing they had known me, instead of words that tie up a messy, beautiful life with a tidy bow of facts and figures.                                                           
  • I want words emotive. 
  • Words that speak honestly. 
  • The good. The bad. The ugly. 
  • I want words that try to communicate the hole left because I am not there anymore. 
  • I want to know my life counted...not in years, but in love and hope and peace. 
  • I want words that prove my life's metric had very little to do with what society deems success. 
  • I want words that sum up my life in the hard-to-measure kinds of categories. 
  • I want words that move others and share what moved me.

I don't mean to imply that times and places are insignificant. Within the fact of where I graduated high school are lives of others that I influenced and influenced me. It's not insignificant, but the fact of when and where I graduate is meaningless unless the impact is known of being in that time and place.

We get it backwards. We think the facts tell the story. They don't. Just like I don't really communicate much to my husband by relaying the moment by moment details of what occurred in my day. Until I fill in the gaps - how those events shaped me, changed me, challenged me - they are just details, just a lifeless list of daily workings.

My goal is not to turn this into some cheesy, trite attempt to get someone to think about what they want people to say after they are gone. That's a valid conversation to have with yourself, but not here. My goal is to ask how well we honor the lives of those we love by choosing to keep writing obituaries the way we are used to seeing them.

What if an obituary truly communicated and didn't just report about a life? What if we really told the story? What if, knowing that column space in the newspaper is costly, we chose to use life-full words where dates and places used to be?

What if...

Nicole C.
belonged to Jesus. wife. mother. people-pleaser. sensitive. loyal. struggled with life. over-achiever. listener. talked too much. friend. faithful. creative. couldn't laugh at herself. passionate. believed in the value of others. sought peace. pursued shalom. withdrew when hurt. book lover who didn't read much. auditory learner. afraid of failure. loved to prepare and preach sermons. met God in nature. opinionated. indecisive. inconsistent journal keeper who loved to write. loved the toes of children. wanted you to know Jesus more.

What if...

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