Out of Bounds by Geary Leason

Mulling it Over

We spend a lot of time talking to ourselves. Our minds are always busy, chewing on one thing or another. We see or hear or read something and it gets us thinking, pondering, or mulling it over. One such stimulus for me is reading the AR Democrat Gazette.

My habit as I read the paper in the morning has changed lately: I used to turn to the Sports page first, but now my first move is to the Obituary Section. I check to see if my name is there and then somewhat relieved, I then do a scan to see who is not here anymore that once resided in Clinton, Fairfield Bay, and Shirley. Occasionally, I get a hit, but very seldom am I familiar with the name. Once this scan is completed, I look for long obituaries, especially if there is a picture of the deceased accompanying “the story.” And then starts the “mulling.”

Why is the cause of death not given in the obituary? Occasionally, something on the order of “after fighting a courageous battle against A.L.S…..” is mentioned but for the most part nothing. In today’s paper there was an obituary covering a 26-year-old man from Searcy, extolling this young man as a person who “made life better for all he met.” Yet not one word that he was tragically killed serving in his job as a police officer for the city of Conway. Why not give the full story? Wouldn’t many people want to know how somebody died? Or is my morbid curiosity that is at work here? I need to mull this over.

What determines the length of the obituary notice? The typical and most numerous by far obit is approximately fifty words long or about 1.5 inches long. Why?…because the first fifty words are FREE! Words number 51 and continuing cost 85 cents each. Pictures are $25. So it turns out that the ones left behind are the ones that determine the length of the obituary. An obituary with one picture that runs one/half page (about 300 words) costs $212.50 plus $25 for the picture for a total of $237.50. Is that too much to spend (of that person’s money but now yours in most cases) on your loved one?

What is an appropriate picture for the obituary notice? young girl headshot  bth_old_wrinkly_woman This is really a large cud to chew on. For instance, most elderly people at the time of the departure don’t look so good, especially if their last few years have been unkind to them via illness, etc. So the idea of a contemporary picture presents a dilemma: does this last look at old mawmaw or peepaw do them justice? On the other hand, many survivors, especially grandchildren, do remember these elderly grandparents fondly as soft and wrinkly, leaning on their canes. This dilemma often can be resolved by spending another $25 by adding a picture of the deceased in their younger days. (See pictures.) As a matter of fact, you will see many an 87-year-old with a picture of them in their 30’s. Personally, I’d vote for the two picture approach.

What do you want said in your obituary? Generally speaking, it is the family – usually the surviving spouse, or surviving children – that provide the story. You better hope that you left them on good terms otherwise all you will get will be the FREE NO PICTURE obit notice: Name, Rank, and Serial Number. I find that the more lengthy obituaries are of people that have lived fairly long (75 plus) and did much to serve other people as doctors, pastors, teachers, lawyers(!), career military, nurses, and – very commonly – remarkably active in many community volunteer organizations. Another common characteristic that is often noted is the kindness and compassion they showed toward all people throughout their lives. Many obituaries make it clear that you don’t have to be a VIP to have your life celebrated.

But why leave this authorship to chance when you can write your own obituary, gilding your eternal Lily just as you please? Same goes for what preacher you want to embellish your life story at your launching to-the-other-side service. And likewise for what hymns or rock and roll songs you want played at your funeral. Since you are the Star of the Show, the One Laying in the Casket or Cardboard Box, You should be the one calling the shots! Don’t put this opportunity off for too long, however, as your ship might set sail with you unknowingly on board.

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