The scrapbook version of our lives

Last week a cousin of mine (through marriage) lost his dad. I saw the notice in the Globe and Mail. Good thing, because I wouldn’t have known otherwise. Made me think back, to announcementswhen I was a kid.

My mother used to read the Obits every single morning. Never missed. When she saw a familiar name, she’d get on the phone and call my aunts and my grandmother. Sometimes, even friends who knew the deceased. I can still hear the conversations, all these years later.

It drove me insane. I used to tell her it was macabre. Ghoulish. Gross. A miserable start to an otherwise nice day. It almost felt like prying, because for the most part she didn’t even know who these people were.

And then she’d tell me it was important. “I have to know”, she’d always say, “so I can send a sympathy

card or a donation or go to the funeral or the shiva (the week-long mourning period observed by Jews).

Of course she didn’t draw the line at death announcements. She also read all the engagement, wedding and birth announcements. And then the phone calls would start again.

“Guess who’s getting married, guess who had a baby, guess who died.” My mother, the town crier. It was a running battle/joke between us.

Now I’m doing the same thing. Well, we don’t have wedding announcements in our daily newspapers anymore. At least not in the one I read. But I do read them in the Sunday New York Times. Why, God only knows. What are the chances I’m gonna know any of those people?

Slim and nil.

I still do it, though. Silly, isn’t it.

But it’s the Obits, I’m referring to. Just like my mother, I read them every morning. I started doing it after she died. Until then if there was anything I needed to know, she told me.

Funny how now, all of a sudden, I understand what she was talking about all those years ago. It seems, without my noticing, I am now ‘of an age’ where people I know are losing parents, siblings, spouses and, in some cases, they’re dying themselves. Albeit too soon, but nonetheless, it’s information I have to know, so I can acknowledge it. Sorry, Ma, I get it now. And just imagine how awful I would have felt if I hadn’t known about my cousin’s father and hadn’t, therefore, been able to extend my sympathy.

Wouldn’t have been very nice, to be honest.

Only difference between me and my mother is, I don’t immediately call everyone I know. Although in the case of my cousin’s father I did text a cousin of mine, to let her know.  See. It is important to read the damn notices.

All of which has gotten me thinking. Our lives, or at least the major milestones in our lives, are reduced to 5 or 6-line notices in our local newspapers — sometimes with a photo and sometimes without. When we’re born. When we become engaged. When we get married. When we die.

A series of black and white clippings that tell the world we were here.

We are. We were.  We are no more.

That’s what it’s reduced to.

Or not.

Because now we have status updates on Facebook. Where we can report and share every second of our lives. Even those, quite frankly, we’d be much better off keeping to ourselves. Which is a whole other conversation. Or blog post.

So what about you? Are you also a closet announcement notice reader, who’s ready to join me in the confessional?




16 thoughts on “The scrapbook version of our lives

  1. I used to be. But since we don’t get the paper here, no longer. I would also read the ultra-flimsy St. Catharines Standard cover to cover including the obits and weddings whenever I visited my in-laws.

  2. yes, i’ll admit to it, i read them in my local paper. i’m kind of fascinated by the little stories and like you, i’ve thought about how our lives are summed up in just a few words at the end – great post. beth

  3. Sorry about your cousin’s father, but it’s a good thing you read about it. I have to say no, I’m not a notice reader. I do things 21st century-style, but I’m very grateful for this outlet. Just last week my uncle passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer’s, and I found out about it through Facebook. After my cousin posted the news on her Timeline, family members and friends responded overwhelmingly, some even posting their favorite pictures of this uncle in the comments. Thanks to FB and other social media sites, I’ve been able to keep up with extended family members I likely would have lost contact with decades ago.

    • Thanks, he had alzheimers too. Miserable, awful, unfair disease. Yes, I see the Facebook notices as well and it’s very helpful. But I’m finding no matter how 21st century I’ve become, some habits are hard to change — like reading the newspaper announcements. We humans are definitely peculiar :). Hope you’re enjoying your summer.

      • Old habits certainly die hard. Enjoying summer tremendously, thanks. Hope you can say the same. 🙂

      • I am, thank you! The weather has been SO nice, although it is dark and humid here today. Thunderstorm coming.

  4. I think it’s a disease. I not only read the names I know, I read the survivors listing in all of them just in case. Occasionally (very occasionally these days) I will see the parent of an old classmate has died.

  5. I may not read the obit section in my local paper every day but I start every issue of the Economist on the back page because I am always fascinated by the lives of people covered. And I do read the “Lives Lived” piece every morning – again for the same reason. Mainly because I find the stories & lives inspirational. PS – I am also a sucker for the NYT Weddings page…not sure why?

    • I also read Lives Lived. I really enjoy those stories. I guess, basically, we’re just curious about and interested in people. And that’s a good thing I think 🙂

  6. My Dad is, I’m not sure what I will read when the time comes, but a close friend told me that she recently sent a distant cousin a b’day message on facebook because an alert came up only to be privately messaged by another cousin to say he had died. So I guess there will develop a social media equivalent, though I’m not aware of anything like that yet!

    • I’m not aware of anything yet either — at least nothing ‘official’. But I do see more and more people announcing all kinds of milestones on Facebook, including RIP Notices. It makes sense, I guess. It’s free; and I don’t know about your part of the world but those announcement notices in Toronto are not cheap. And it’s immediate. You can let a lot of people, who live in diverse locations, what’s going on with friends and family “as it happens” — with just one click.

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