Condensing 94 years of life into 500 words is a difficult task. But should it be impossible? My GG died two days ago. Everyone flew down to Texas and she passed away surrounded by family members. I should have been there, but I wasn’t, due to Covid-19 restrictions. While sitting in my Edinburgh flat, I read her obituary. As my eyes skimmed down the many paragraphs, I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” my mom asked over the phone. I said yes. But I lied.
The obituary’s words felt empty, hollow, meaningless. She wasn’t just a good Christian, a devoted wife, and a kind mother. She was more than the sum of her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. GG was fiery, unapologetically herself, adored by her husband of 74 years. She said what she thought, and she was never well behaved. We would run around the house together, wearing cheap beads, plastic sunglasses, and dresses made of scarves. Little me would wear high heels that would fall off my feet.
This woman was so amazing that she accidentally flung a kitchen pan of her own urine on her date, and he still married her. She was always funny, lively, full of advice and stories. She even taught me what to say when I didn’t want to be kissed. (For those curious, it’s point, say “look at that rabbit,” and run. And, yes, GG pulled exactly such a stunt when she was young.)
I’ll miss GG always telling me to talk slower. I’ll miss trying to imitate her Texas drawl. I’ll miss making memories with this strong woman who loved church and make-up and Nilla wafers. Yet her obituary captured little of this woman I miss so much.
Perhaps it isn’t an obituary’s job to capture all nuances of a person’s being. Perhaps I am being too harsh on a short article that is meant to bring fleeting comfort to a mourning family. Afterall, my mother found it beautiful, so maybe it’s adequately executing its purpose. In my grief, I wanted to find solace in this obituary, but I found none; and maybe that’s my own fault. Maybe I was asking too much of a slip of paper.
However, I often find women’s obituaries to be rooted in the values of a society that sees women as secondary. For instance, GG’s obituary felt more about others than herself. She was celebrated for her child bearing, her family making skills, and her places in a wider community. Yet, I wanted this obituary to be a celebration of a singular life well lived, a tribute to an irreplaceable and unique person.
When I die, I want my obituary to be real. I don’t want it to list my children and where I’ve lived but leave out everything that made me Emily. I don’t want my obituary to be easily mistaken for anyone’s but mine. GG, I know you would laugh over how passionate I am over this issue. You would think that this pretty obituary is perfectly fine. But, just humour me one more time. I think you deserved a little bit more.
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