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



Memorial for a difficult person

Sometimes death catches us off-guard.

It happened to me this summer. Someone died, and being me, I immediately took up the self-imposed charge to create “something to say” about a person who was, frankly, not that easy to get along with. She wasn’t surrounded by friends…ever, as far as I could tell. She wasn’t particularly nice…although with medication she was nicer.

Standard funeral readings didn’t seem to fit. Too many lean toward the grandiose, seem overly spiritual, or make the person sound like more than she was. Hardest of all, most readings I found didn’t seem to fit my aunt, who was a troubled person and often brought trouble along with her.

Writer that I fancy myself to be, I came up with the paragraphs that follow, and I gave them to my mother to read at her sister’s funeral. The feedback from another aunt was that it said everything she wanted to say. I share what I wrote, not to shine the light on myself, but to offer to anyone else in a similar situation where positive memories are limited. Please feel free to use it for your personal reflection or for a memorial portion of a service, at no charge from me. If you do use it though, drop me a comment.

If you have found this because you have lost someone, please accept my condolences.


Death is the end, but it is also the beginning. It’s a time to look back on what has passed, to mourn over the person whom we’ve lost, and to rejoice that her suffering, seen and unseen, is over. As one life has ended, we begin to live knowing that our days on earth are limited, but that our presence here is valuable. We begin to look forward to our own futures. We live knowing that for as much as God has ordained the events and circumstances of our lives, He is also walking right alongside us to guide us. All we have to do is let Him.

Death is the closing of a door, but it is also an opportunity. As we look back on what Diane walked through in her life, we see what has gone before in all of our lives–highs, lows, joys, sorrows, pleasant memories, and deep regrets. As the door has closed on her life, each of us has the opportunity to transform our pasts into a force for future good. Where we have suffered, we have the opportunity to sympathize. Where we have fallen, we have the opportunity to pick others up. Where we have seen God’s blessings, we can rejoice and share those blessings with others, making ourselves the greatest blessing of all.

Death may seem like the final word, but it also represents a blank page where we write the story of the rest of our lives. Diane’s story lives on in our memories and echoes in our hearts. We have seen her life come to a close, but the rest of us don’t know how our stories will end. We don’t know, any of us, how much time we will have. In the meantime, ask yourself–what do you choose? How will you contribute? What good will you do to honor the God who made you and encourage the people around you?

The rest of your story is yet to be written–the big question is this: What do you want your story to say?