Obits: The joy of reading about those who have passed

I’ve got two reactions when I read an obit about someone who is not in my personal orbit. I.E. Not a family member or co-worker.

The first: “Dang.” That’s usually reserved for someone I’ve admired (Sydney Pollack, Dave Brubeck). The second is “Man, who knew?”

I tell my students that the beauty of reading obits is that it gives you a window into the world. A world you may not be privy too. (Stardom. I’m thinking of you, Whitney Houston). Or a world you aspired to (Foreign correspondence. RIP Anthony Shadid).

How someone’s life can be summed up in 15 inches — and on deadline — is remarkable. The best obits capture someone’s spirit. The words allow us to see them in action. The quotes used are often powerful. They’re great character studies and they give me pause.

The most recent obit that grabbed my attention was one on Pauline Friedman Phillips AKA “Dear Abby.” It was a radio piece I heard on NPR. I was hooked from the opening line: She was “a czarina of common-sense advice.”

I wasn’t a “Dear Abby” reader. So everything related to me was new. But what I found interesting were all those little details, like how she was mentioned in a Dead Kennedys song.

It’s also got a great ending.




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