Summing up a life – Part 1

This week I received another in a series of “You should write a book about that!” comments from my friends.

This time it was about my habit of reading the obituaries of people I don’t know because they’re just so darn sweet. I mean who can ignore the sheer human joy evident in the obituary of a recently deceased gentleman who, for whatever character flaws have gone unmentioned, will be remembered for his signature hot dog stew? And what possesses a family to use a headshot with extra-large afro circa 1975 for the obituary portrait of dear old dad? Do you think he was buried in his platform shoes?

Obituaries may seem morbid, but really, they are a good read. Take this line from the story of Hank Zimmerman, age 87: “He was a dedicated husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather who enjoyed farming, cooking, and eventually cats.” On the flip side, here’s a tidbit about Horace B. Willey, Jr., age 89: “He served as President of the Diamond State Beagle Club…” And I love this one about Ruth M. Lee, age 87: “[She] was given her angel wings on October 2, 2011. Ruth enjoyed life, caring for her cats and dogs, feeding the wild birds and chipmunks, cooking, especially baking, gardening, and going to lunch with her best friend Joanna. She was known for her green thumb and growing the biggest tomatoes.”

During the conversation, someone mentioned the obit of notorious Delaware killer Thomas Capano, who was found dead in his prison cell back in September. To that point he’d served about 14 years of a life sentence for the murder of Anne Marie Fahey who was then Delaware governor’s scheduling secretary and he died of natural causes, possibly a heart attack.

What struck my friends was that the obituary was a glowing affirmation of the life of community servant, loving father, and all around man of good taste. One person speculated that Mr. Capano’s daughters must have believed he was innocent (after all, what daughter could live her life even imagining that her father was capable of killing his young mistress and disposing of her dead body by stuffing it in a cooler and dumping it off the Jersey shore—it would be hard for Meadow Soprano to get her head around that one, I think). I suspect this may be the case.

Regardless, I think there’s something beautiful about how the remembrance of the Capano family separates the noble, the sweet, the precious memories of their loved one from his unfaithful, ruinous, and monstrous actions. The exercise of mining a life for the good parts is an amazing lesson in finding light even in the darkest of situations. This may not be 100% of the story, but it’s enough to you’re your personal narrative into a palatable form and to help you put one foot in front of the other for another day.

Kudos to the Capano family for getting it right.

 

Obituary excerpts from The Dover Post newspaper and The News Journal online edition

 

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2 Comments

  1. Lorraine said,

    October 9, 2011 at 7:00 am

    Hey Cheryl, I sometimes sob my way through the obits. I agree, there are some great tributes. I was reminded of when one of my uncles died and his grandchildren were writng their tributes and the youngest, who was about six, put her hands into the air and said, “Now who is going to answer all my questions?” That’s exactly what they put into the paper from her!
    Cheers, Lorraine

  2. scheirmad said,

    October 12, 2011 at 8:00 am

    You are so sweet, Lorraine (nice to hear from you, it’s been a long time)! I love the “mouth of babes” approach, it is precious.

    Stay tuned for more on the obit front–I seem to be a little stuck there.

    My best to Dieter!


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