An Obituary’s Message to Call your Mother

Mom, This one's for you!

Mom, This one’s for you!

Earlier this year, my local daily newspaper changed the placement of the obituaries moving them to page two. I’ve often wondered how many other newspaper readers are like me, keenly interested in the obituaries. I also question how my gradual transition from reading the comics as a teenager to devouring the death notices as a boomer occurred. Once, an elderly relative humorously confided that he read the obituaries right away to make sure he wasn’t among those listed. Of course, in case you miss one, you can simply go online and Google the person’s name and date of death. Often you can even post condolences to the family or send flowers if you like. Facebook can be another great way to be alerted to the passing of a friend or former co-worker when someone posts their obituary online. Living in a society that is in a constant state of flux geographically necessitates that we stay in touch electronically.

But what’s so important about an obituary anyway? In explanation, caring about people makes you realize what a vital part that death plays in the game of life. Commemorating those who have gone before us is an integral rite of passage, and being there for those left behind is of paramount importance. Yet, to be there, you have to be informed, thus the relevance of the obituary.

An obituary can tell you a lot about a deceased individual, even when you think you already know them. Then there are times, when you aren’t acquainted, but you are startled by the details of their death and human curiosity and compassion kick in. For instance, when someone young dies, even when they are a total stranger, most people probably lament this untimely passing in a deeper way. We sympathize, because the death of a child is every parent’s worst nightmare, and your heart aches for those suffering this loss.CassieCasket

There is death by suicide, too. An obituary doesn’t usually reveal this heartbreaking detail. However, sometimes you can read between the lines to decipher that for some reason an individual could no longer bear to be part of this world. Other tragic deaths include accidents caused by alcohol consumption or those drug-related, of which there are far too many lately. As with a violent murder, the facts are frequently disclosed in a related news story. Another heart grabber is when several members of a family die together.

No one is spared the pain of burying loved ones, that’s why it’s necessary to be there for those left behind. I learned this valuable lesson in my youth, when a teenage friend committed suicide, and I failed her dear mother who was like a second mother to me. In the midst of this crisis, I disappeared. I didn’t visit the funeral home or call, because I was terrified of dealing with death. It wasn’t death itself that frightened me, rather the fear of saying or doing something wrong, or of not being strong. My misconception was that I wouldn’t be missed, but I was.

Growing up through my own funeral home tour of duty I have come to realize that you remember the faces there, and you are acutely aware of the absence of those who don’t come. It’s a defining moment like serious illness, when you realize who your true friends are. After all, the Bible says we should, “…mourn with those who mourn.” When I do pay my last respects now, I no longer feel overwhelmed by the need to have eloquent words of comfort. I simply say how very sorry I am, and offer a hug, remembering how grateful I have been for those consoling embraces in days past.

I wish I could give Robert Downey Jr., my condolences and a big hug. Sadly, the famous actor lost his 80-year-old mother on Sept. 22, 2014. A few days later, he courageously posted a beautiful obituary that he had written about her on his official Facebook page. He candidly included that his mom’s broken career dreams were caused by alcoholism, something she successfully overcame. He even credits a 2004 phone call from her as the catalyst for his own sobriety today.

Obituaries like Downey Jr.s’ are a startling reminder to the living to appreciate our tragically flawed loved ones. He closes it with the poignant words, “If anyone out there has a mother, and she is not perfect, please call her and say you love her anyway…”

Oh, how I wish I could, but the only obituary I’ve ever written was my mother’s. Still, maybe it’s not too late for you to take the actor’s wise advice and call yours.

Robert Downey Jr.s Mom

 

Click on the photo of Robert Downey Jr.s’ mother, Elsie, to read his touching obituary.

 

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Condolence cards offer comfort a second time

Dayspring Greeting Cards

Dayspring Greeting Cards offer comfort when our own words fail us

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A snow day in Ohio, the perfect time to tackle that old tub filled with greeting cards collected over the years. After all, lately words like simplify, downsize, and de-clutter seem to be calling to me in a rather frantic voice. Of course, you can’t keep all the cards you receive. For instance, those wonderful Christmas greetings which arrive each holiday can accumulate quickly. According to the Greeting Card Association website, www.greetingcard.org these seasonal cards are the most popular of all varieties selling about 1.6 billion units annually.

Although, most of the cards in my laundry-basket-sized tub are the kind you can’t throw out or recycle. They are treasures that are forever memories including every birthday and Mother’s Day card my son ever sent me. There are romantic cards, too. Ones my husband gave me when we were dating and Valentine’s Day cards from each year after we married. Except for that first year, before he knew that a woman without a Valentine’s card could be a lethal commodity. But that really is a whole other column.

Information from the GCA website explains, “Women purchase an estimated 80% of all greeting cards…spend more time choosing a card… and are more likely to buy several cards at once.” Cindy Garland, owner of The Ivy Garland, a gift and flower shop located in downtown Sidney, Ohio, agrees that women buy more cards. “Absolutely, in here it is probably 90 percent,” she said. The Ivy Garland has been in business for 13 years, and card sales have remained consistent. “I still sell about the same amount….I sell a lot of humorous cards…,” said the shop’s owner. “I [also] sell a lot of sympathy cards…,” she added.

My late mother was the consummate card sender. My tub is half-filled with notes, postcards, and greeting cards from her. It didn’t take a special occasion. I used to tell her that she had a card ministry, because she always seemed to send a card with encouraging words at just the right time. Serendipity or divine providence, you decide. Yet, I always believed that my mother’s card giving was a special gift from God to this world. From her, I learned how important sending a card for a happy or sad occasion can be. One celebrates life, the other says, “You are not alone in your pain.”

“I think people appreciate the gesture anytime,” said Cindy Garland. The businesswoman says that the significance of a greeting card is, “To let people know you are thinking of them. It’s something that they can touch.” When it comes to expressing condolences, a sympathy card has a special purpose. It’s a time when, “…a lot of people don’t know what to say,” said Garland. Therefore, a card’s message can help people to better express their feelings.

I suppose it was no surprise that when Mom died, those who had garnered a lifetime of cards from her, would send a condolence card in her honor. You see, my prolific card-sending mother mailed out several hundred Christmas cards every year. So you can imagine how many sympathy cards I received. I read each one when they arrived shortly after her sudden death more than two years ago. Some of the cards contained messages that helped me get through those dark days. I planned to look the cards over one last time, and throw most of them away. Truthfully, this task had been too painful to undertake before.

On a snowy March afternoon with a hot cup of coffee and blazing fire, reading these thoughtful cards produced amazement and tears. Without the blur of shock and grief, I could hear the heart of each sender. Especially those who had also lost loved ones, sharing what helped them through, wanting desperately to offer comfort. The first time around, I missed this vital point about condolence cards. We are all so deeply touched by the loss others experience, because we all live through heartbreaking losses of our own.

My advice is that if you have experienced a recent bereavement don’t dispose of those sympathy cards. Save them. Then read them again in a couple of years, when you will be able to appreciate them more. In the end, I put all the cards back into the tub realizing that they were too precious to discard. Each one was a new memory of being comforted a second time by others who had courageously walked their own grief-filled road.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. This column originally appeared in The Lima News and Sidney Daily News March 2013.

 

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