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Reading Obituaries Yet?

Many of you know we have a GIFTERS group that meets Tuesday mornings on ZOOM ( the new, way to gather). Each week we discuss a different topic related to THE LAST GIFT BOX and end up coming up with issues to continue the discussion the next Tuesday. You are all welcome to join us on ZOOM at 9AM-9:40AM. Email me and I'll be sure to add you to the announcement list.

Last week we discussed the need, or not, for Obituaries. The cost. What to include and leave out, especially now in the age of the internet/cloud/web searches. It was a lively discussion. Sharing obituaries we thought were well done and gave a sense of who the person was provided a way to begin our own.

If you want specifics included, like you are the master of the vacation planning or host the Santa Lucia Party each year, or swim across The Bay every Mother's Day, you best write your own.

I shared Nick Hoppe's article from a few years ago and we all decided it needed a re-read by us all. Nick's' father was Arthur Hoppe, a Chronicle columnist for years and they both share a delightful wit. Hope you enjoy Nick's take on Obituaries.


If it's Sunday it's obituary day

"There's nothing like a dissertation on death to get your Tuesday morning off to a cherry start. I'm happy to oblige.

In particular, I've been thinking about obituaries. For those of us who still can't relinquish the feel of the morning paper in our hands, obituaries are part of our daily routine.

In The Chronicle, we open the Bay Area section, read about a couple of local calamities, then turn the page and death is suddenly all around us. During the week it's pretty subtle, only a page or two. Few survivors are willing to pay megabucks for a one-week run.

Sunday is the real death day. It's a smorgasbord of life tributes, page after page of pictures and stories. There's no escaping. Front-page columns and features jump to the back pages and the obits are in between. You can quickly flip through them, but you still know how many people have died. And those are only the ones who can afford to print an obituary.

When I was younger, I would definitely flip through the obituaries, barely giving them a thought. I would never read about the life of someone I didn't know unless they were famous. I had no interest.

So why now? With each year that passes, I find myself more drawn to the lives of the dead. I still feel a little guilty about it, a little morbid. It's almost like a car accident on the freeway. I try not to look, but sometimes I can't resist.

I never look at the list of names. That's too easy. I do a quick scan of each full obituary, looking at the pictures, if provided, and then noting the names. Quite often maybe once a month, I see it's the name of someone I know. And I'm relieved to see it's almost always the parent of my friend or acquaintance. My generation is, for the most part, still safe.

I suppose that's the main reason I'm becoming more drawn to the obituaries. After looking at the pictures and the name, I find myself looking at the date of birth; 1920s, 1930s, even the 1940s - that's a good long life, something to aspire to. A little fist pump is in order. 1950s and beyond, that's not so good.

When I see those later dates, reality set in. There's no question my generation is next on the conveyor belt. But most of the time, the obituary is of someone older than I, and I can read it without too much gulit, or fear. In a perfect world everyone who dies should be older than you.

I certainly don't read them all. That would take up most of my Sunday morning, and I'd get some weird looks from across the table. But while I used to read none, now I pick and choose one or two, and they can be fascinating.

Whole lives are encapsulated in 200 words, or 600 words, or 1,200 words, depending on the survivor's budget. Some are fairly simple, but always interesting to read. And some have a list of accomplishments that can make you feel as if you've done very little in comparison with your own life.

Some are well written, some are choppy. All are lives well lived. Finish a good obituary and you feel a kinship with the deceased. You know how they got to the Bay Area, their loves, their families, their careers, their hobbies. Sometimes you read between the lines, sensing some pain. Those are the most honest ones.

I wouldn't be surprised if I read more and more obituaries as I age. It just seems like a natural progression. Twenty years ago I would never read one. Ten years ago, I would glance at them. Now I read them occasionally, with only little guilt from morbid curiosity. I wonder how I'll feel in another 10 years.

When I come across the obituaries in the Sunday paper, I'm amazed at the consistency. It's almost always five or six pages. Apparently, death does not take a vacation. It reminds me that everyone's time will eventually come, and a loving family member will write the obituary.

Or you can write your own, or at least make suggestions. My father, who wrote a column in The Chronicle for more than 50 years, had the greatest line for his obituary, and I'm requesting the same. He wanted it to read, "Much to his surprise, Arthur Hoppe died yesterday."

Now that's a good start to an obituary."

Thank you, Nick Hoppe, for your years of wonderful writing with true-life observations in The Chronicle. And supporting my opinion that it's best to write an outline, a one-liner or the entire thing. Why leave it to chance...?

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