Mr. B’s wife asked me to write an obituary for the newspaper a couple of days after he died and, seeing as how I would have done anything to help her at that point, I said yes.
Of course I had absolutely no experience with writing obituaries but, having read a few of them over the years, I didn’t think it could be that hard. The ones I’d seen were mainly a list of pertinent facts laced with a couple of life highlights such as career path, a significant achievement, and maybe a favorite hobby or two. But then Mrs. B told me that she’d like something non-traditional, to go with Mr. B’s mostly non-traditional life, and I fell off the edge into deep water.
So what did I do? Why, research of course. I turned to the world-wide web (what-oh-what did we do before the internet delivered it’s wealth of knowledge and resources right to our fingertips?!), googled How to write an obituary, and found ObituaryGuide.com, a veritable smorgasbord of tips and insights.
I soon discovered that an obituary can be so, so, SO much more than just a list of facts; that at its best it should not only capture the deep essence of a life, it should uplift and inspire anyone who reads it to carry the best of that life forward in their own. I also discovered that trying to capture the essence of something as vast, complex, paradoxical, sacred, and miraculous as a human life is totally impossible…which meant I was doomed before I started.
But here’s the thing. Trying to do it anyway thrust me into some strange, bigger kind of place inside myself…a loving place, a place of sorrow and tremendous joy, a place where maybe I might catch a glimpse of something as huge as a life essence…and going there made me feel a lot better. As if I got to borrow a bigger set of eyes for a few hours with which to gaze at the world, at Mr. B’s life, and I had the chance to see how everything looks so much better through eyes that big. So much more sane, and perfect, and right.
I don’t know if it would work like that for everyone all the time, but I highly recommend giving it a try. You don’t even have to do for somebody that died. You could do it for anyone, or for yourself for that matter. Write it for someone you love or someone you’re pissed at. Just go for the big eyes, whoever it is, and see what changes.
So anyway, here’s the finished product. I changed all the names and dates and identifying info to protect the innocent of course. The “Once upon a time…” at the beginning was removed from the final copy but I’ve put it back in again here because…well, I don’t know why for sure. Maybe because its the only way I know how to describe the magic and transcendental wonder that was Mr. B’s life.
Once upon a time, on July 16, 1932 at Weippe, Idaho, Jesse and “Buzz” Skinner brought a perfect, baby boy into the world. They named him Matthew Reynold but called him Bud, and he grew up ranging mountainsides, adoring animals, and seeing the world around him as something alive…a neat trick that he never outgrew. He lost his father at thirteen, then his leg (and almost his life) three years later, but happily chose to survive and afterwards returned to his life with the same generosity, determination, and curiosity that ultimately defined him.
Bud grew up (to 6’8″) and did many intriguing and wonderful things. He married, had children, and in the 1970’s earned a degree in Computer Science, taking an honored place among the ranks of the earliest computer nerds. He was a college activist (detained but never charged), an only-child who later found his brothers among the men who were his truest friends, and a man who saw the deepest significance of his life in his relationships with others.
On Friday, after seventy-nine years of grand adventure, learning, setbacks, determination, courage, and grace, Bud died peacefully at home in Boise while gazing into the tender eyes of his wife. At the last he was cradled in both the laughter and tears of his beloved family. Everyone should have the opportunity to die so well.
Mr. B. is survived by his wife and devoted basset hound, son and his wife, two daughters and their husbands, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
While we’re grateful to many, our special thanks go to Bud’s good friend and doctor, Bill Chris, for helping him keep his health all these years, to “Cuz” Ada Brown for her immeasurable love and care during the last weeks, to Dia for being there with us during Bud’s final hours, and to all his wonderful caregivers too numerous to name. If he ever called you sweetheart, gave you a hug, or knew your name, then you were a special person to him.
A memorial service will be held at noon on Saturday, at the Memorial Funeral Chapel in Boise. There will be a reception immediately following.
Rather than flowers, Bud would have preferred donations to any organization dedicated to reducing suffering. Or better yet, the next time you see anyone struggling with a heavy load, stop, smile, lend them a hand, and then gently suggest that they “pay it forward.” Bud’s vision was for a world growing in an ever-widening circle of tolerance, compassion, and kindness. It was a vision he worked toward in his own life. Continuing that effort in yours would be a very high tribute indeed.
copyright Dia Osborn 2011
can i ask you
what kind of obituary would you do for me?
Enduring Lover of the Small Moment
He saw, he adored, he wrote,
And gave us hope thereby.
just read it
thank you my friend
The art of an obituary…
“…not only capture the deep essence of a life, it should uplift and inspire anyone who reads it to carry the best of that life forward in their own.” So very true.
I’ve been a student of obituaries for many years. I don’t know why I’m drawn to the obit page, but nearly everyday I scan it. I’m always curious about how families choose to present their loved ones to the larger world. It is fascinating to read between the lines of what is included and what is left out of an oh-so-brief life story. I good obituary is not necessarily a grammatically correct one, but one that honors and pays tribute to a person’s life.
Crazy as it sounds, when I was transitioning from high school to the larger world of college and beyond, it dawned on me one day, that all the guidance I needed for making choices in life would be to live my life the way I’d like to see it written in an obit.
“…it dawned on me one day, that all the guidance I needed for making choices in life would be to live my life the way I’d like to see it written in an obit.”
What an amazing thing to grok at such a young age!! Wow. Did you ever write an obit for yourself, or have you just been going on a general feeling about it?
Just the general feeling. Maybe I don’t want to jinx my good health.
Pingback: How to live the best life? Look back from the future. | The Odd and Unmentionable
You caught the essence of his life. Most obituaries are about what the person did. You wrote one that told who he was. I will always treasure it and be grateful that you were there.