Obituaries never used to interest me. They seemed remote, depressing, nothing to do with my life. As one ages, however, those last words about an individual's life, carefully crafted by a loved one, represent a legacy of greatness, good, and ultimately, proof that they existed.
When my father passed away unexpectedly, it fell to my sister and me to write his obituary. How do you sum up a lifetime of accomplishments? What's important, and what is not? It all came down to what we thought our dad would want us to write. How would he like to be remembered? We kept it brief. Our dad was a humble man. His service in WWII and his family comprised most of the text.
Now I find myself reading the obituaries as regularly as the front-page news. Some are remarkable, others simply sad. For example, today I read about Anne Brown O'Donnell, who passed away at 89. Her life was privileged in the sense that she attended college at USC in the 40's, traveled the world, and even saw Nat King Cole perform at the old Coconut Grove nightclub at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. This video captures the essence of the good life amongst the city's elite of the day. O'Donnell resided in Atherton, one of the Bay Area's most well-to-do cities. Her obituary says, "She greeted every day and every situation with a smile." Perhaps easy to do when you have wealth and comforts, but even as a stranger, I believe Anne Brown O'Donnell was a lady and a good person. She volunteered for many good causes and in all, her life made a difference in many people's lives.
Further down the page, I found Chico Tunney, who died of colon cancer at only 29 years old. He played lacrosse at UCLA and was a founding board member of the Bay Area Youth Sports Foundation that makes sports available to underprivileged kids. He is described as "solid, dependable... a perpetual twinkle in his eye." He was married and lived life to the fullest, recently "shredding fresh powder at Tahoe."
The point is I didn't have to know Anne or Chico in order for them to impact my life. True, obituaries never say anything negative about the deceased. Still, reading about lives worthwhile inspires me to make my life the best it can be. After all, what will my children write about me one day?
My father led a simple life and quietly influences me in ways I'm only beginning to realize now. Read the obituaries and you gain a new sense of what every breathing minute should be ... and if you need more inspiration, check out this video, "When I Grow Up" ... life is now, and every day.