The Worst Obituary I’ve Ever Read

I have a paper clutter problem at home. One cause of that problem is that I tear out newspaper and magazine articles that interest me. I figure I’ll use the articles for reference or blog content at some later point in time, so the paper collects in files or small piles.  I was getting a jump on spring cleaning when I found this ragged article on a floor.

“Far-right, anti-Semitic organizer who denied the Holocaust”

Worst obituary

This obituary for — I’ll call him “Mr. C” — was the largest headline on the page. Most prominent obituaries trumpet the professional or civic accomplishments of the deceased, leaving a reader with a sense of a community’s or family’s deeply-felt loss.  But, Mr. C’s obituary read like a resumé of his efforts to advance extremist beliefs.  Even Washington, D.C.’s spin-meisters wouldn’t salvage this one.

I wondered:  Did a bitter family member submit the obituary? Nope. Maybe there was someone left behind who was getting left out?  Nope.  This missive was written by “Staff Reports.” It was fine, objective reporting and writing. The Staff worked with what they had.

There didn’t seem to be any material that could cast the deceased Mr. C in a sympathetic or heroic light. There weren’t statements to indicate his beliefs actually helped anyone. What more could Staff say about an apparent recluse, who didn’t seem to have any personal or significant relationships?  Even his wife lived in a different city, and there was only one sentence to acknowledge her existence.

The obituary noted that ‘Mr. C’ was notorious for his “extremist views” that “resonated with generations of neo-Nazis, conspiracy theorists and other fringe elements.” Among his recommendations was that “black Americans be deported to Africa.” (We’ve heard that one before.) Evidently, Mr. C’s pro-segregation / apartheid /white separatist / anti-Semitic publications and organizations landed them on Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center watch lists.

Mr. C was noted as being way far right and conservative. But, not even William F. Buckley, Jr. wanted him in his camp.

I looked for nuggets of humanity and personal relationships; some bit of redemption in the long summary of Mr. C’s life. I thought he would have been beloved among his fellow extremists, but he wasn’t. He had failed relationships, even among that crowd.  His network was strewn with burned bridges.

Upon his death, only the publications Mr. C founded said anything positive. They expressed gratitude that he championed their extremist causes. The only additional information I gleaned was that he had served in the military and earned a Purple Heart.

In contrast, I saw this heading for a politician’s death notice in Time magazine, February 15, 2016:  “Beloved mayor, convicted felon.”  This heading ticked off the plus and minus boxes of the mayor’s life. The writeup was brief, but very clear that the mayor’s legacy was his contributions to his city, through his support of arts and historic preservation, new parks, and schools. The pluses of the mayor’s life eclipsed his felony conviction.

I was laughing when I described Mr. C’s obituary headline to a friend. Were there raucous cheers out there somewhere at the news of his demise, like the residents of Oz when they heard “The Wicked Witch is dead”?  I was incredulous that this was the best life this guy was willing to live, and he had worked very hard at it. Readers might surmise that Mr. C had succeeded in being an asshole his whole adult life.

Even though it was funny in that sense, it was very sad in another. No friends, no family, no life.

Let’s consider Mr. C’s obituary to be “Exhibit A” for how you do not want to be remembered. In her book Thrive, Arianna Huffington said that people can “live up to the best version of [their] eulogy.” Along that same line, a famous poem, “The Dash,” explains that life occurs in the dash between your date of birth and your date of death. The poem concludes with the question whether you would be proud of the things said at your eulogy.

Would you?

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Aging: It Doesn’t Have to be Straight Downhill

Aging — it happens every minute of our lives and starts at birth.  Aging — it  can neither be denied nor held at bay, not even with alluring products and superfoods that claim “anti-aging” magic. In developed countries, we’re living longer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going well.

Let’s aim for living and aging well.

I wonder all the time how well will I age, and what kind of old person will I be?  From observing people around me — and remembering the people I no longer see — I figure that how well anyone gets on down this road is partly in their control, and partly a crapshoot (including the vagaries of the gene pool).

My parents aged differently, although my father had quite a long run. He was house-bound and no longer driving his car the last two years of his life. When Daddy was having a rough time, he’d chuckle and recite this poem:

The Golden Years are here at last

I cannot see, I cannot pee

I cannot chew, I cannot screw

My memory shrinks, my hearing stinks

No sense of smell, I look like hell

The Golden Years are here at last

The Golden Years can kiss my ass

(Original version by Kimers)

My mother, on the other hand —  “Ms. Daisy” —  is still vibrant in her late 80s, having adventures of her own. I also know a certain nonagenarian, who’s closer to 100 years of age than not, who recently went on a Panama Canal cruise with his younger girlfriend. My three siblings and I share this gene pool and it’s not clear yet how things will go for us. It seems that I’m the one with some kind of weakness, having had major surgeries of the back, abdomen, and breast at a fairly young age. But, so far so good for us all.

American culture glorifies youth, who often act like older people are just in the way; that they have an expiration date or a shelf life. I saw as much in trite comments about former President Jimmy Carter on Twitter after his cancer diagnosis was announced. A few comments were along the lines of: “He’s had a long life, no need to be sad” and “It’s gotta happen sometime,” etc.  This former President continues to add value to this world into his nineties. He is a treasure, plain and simple. We should all strive to be fractionally as productive. (And Mr. Carter is a lifelong tennis player, too.)

Don’t underestimate old folk or write them off.  I was in my 20s when I faced an unlikely opponent in a tennis tournament. She walked slowly onto the court wearing surgical stockings and a thin sweater, like she had a chill. She carried only her racquet, not a tournament bag full of gear like the rest of us. To me, she looked old as hell. I thought: ‘I’ve got this.  I’ll overpower that old lady and run every ball down.’ Old Lady had a different notion. She planted herself in the region of the court called “No Man’s Land” to return my serves and ground strokes. (Few people have the skills to play an entire match there.) Old Lady took all my balls on the rise and yanked me from corner to corner. Hardly moving from that area the whole match — and certainly not breaking a sweat — Old Lady ended it with ruthless efficiency. I was running balls down all right, many of which were out of reach.

This is how I looked.

Puppet_1_

Old Lady waxed me with wisdom.

The other aspect of aging is accepting and feeling positive about physical changes you cannot help without surgery. I’m not a fan of plastic surgery because I don’t want to have “puppet-face.” Besides, it’s a waste of money; gravity wins over time.  Speaking of which, looking down in a mirror revealed to me gravity’s effects on my face and neck. I was, like, damn….  Anyway, there are a lot of things to come to terms with as time marches on. I’ll embrace the aging process because I’m happy to be here, and I’m still me. There’s always some wise person to remind us that growing old beats the alternative.

This photo of tennis teammates makes my point for living and aging well. (Teammates ranged in age from a few thirty-somethings to one septagenarian, featured below. To say this team was “selective” is an understatement. Everybody kicked butt!)

Teammates from the Maryland State Champions 2015, 3.5 18 & over women's team

Vicious Vollies / Prince George’s County – Maryland State Champions 2015, 3.5 18 & over women’s team – Photo courtesy of Tinya Coles-Cieply

Taking an example from a certain President and a certain tennis teammate, this is how I want to be in my Senior Years:

  • Helpful and an inspiration to others
  • Still an athlete, playing USTA league matches in every age category from 18 & over  to Super Seniors (ages 65-85)
  • Not dependent on meds
  • Still traveling
  • Full of joy
  • Hanging with friends (young and old)

How do you see yourself in your Senior Years?

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