Who will say goodbye?


It was a rough week, last week, when the tribe gathered several times to say goodbye to recent members of the clan. Those left behind look around furtively, wondering, “Who’s next?” as another generation realizes: They are.

I’m an obituary reader. Can’t say I read every word of every obit – but I do read enough to recognize a neighbor or a church member. And I’ve been rolling a thought around in my brain.

Has it happened to you? You fling open the Metro section and glance down both the paid obits and the ones the funeral home arranges. When Mowell Funeral Home catches your attention and presents the news that Albert Sicknomore has gone to meet his maker, you wonder why you didn’t know him. The obit says he was born in Fayette County and grew up in the family home, and you didn’t know him?

Simple. A man who dies at 89 was likely not so publicly active in the community as he once was. By the age of 89, he has probably not run for county commissioner lately. He has not been part of the local ol’ boys’ breakfast club since the doctor told him to quit eating fatty food and drinking syrupy-sweet iced tea.

It seems to me that a person who attains the really higher decades has probably been zeroed out for at least 10 years before the news of his passing reached the press.

The reason, obviously, is that there are so few left who “knew him when.”

Dave’s grandmother, who was in her late nineties when she died, used to grieve that there was no one left who could properly call her by her first name. That was before medical personnel and grocery clerks alike felt free to call “older women” by their first names. Or to call “older men” Hon and Sweetie.

Maybe what bothers me this time is that two of those who left us last week were our age, almost to the month. They were born, married, had children, and were divorced or widowed at almost the same time that we were.

We can get only so far in making comparisons like these. We scour the obits looking for people to relate to.

Ahhh, we muse, This fellow had lung cancer. No wonder he died so young. He smoked himself to death. (I’ve never smoked a cigarette.)

This one was reckless, a threat to anyone else on the road. I’m a very careful driver. (I won’t be caught dead driving after drinking.)

Whew. As long as I eat wisely and avoid toxic waste, I may just live forever. Ha. God is smiling again. Or laughing.

Did you ever see an obituary sadder than the following? I’ve long forgotten the name on this brief notice:

“So-and-so, 62, died yesterday. There are no immediate survivors, and no memorial is planned. She was a member of Weight Watchers.”

Or this?

“So-and-So passed last Thursday, at 89. He was predeceased by his parents and grandparents….” I bet he was.

Au contraire, the three that passed from the stage we call life, last week, were somewhat high profile, and they wanted for nothing. One was a wife, mother, churchwoman, gardener, graceful hostess: Her credentials were endless.

And the father and grandfather whom a mutual friend called a good neighbor. He was also a patriot, an Air Force veteran, and was a really funny man, the friend said.

I wasn’t sure whether our Jean knew the veteran sports writer, but she answered my email: “Yes, I remember Mr. Outlar. I’d see him over at the grocery store every once in a while – quite awe-inspiring, because I wanted to be a sportswriter at that time.… ”

We may be diminished when the tribe turns and resumes life without them, but they have left bits of themselves to be remember by: a favorite recipe shared; a family tradition like Friday evening pizza with four or five neighbors; archived columns.

And a wedding, pointing to the future.

But sooner or later, we’ll be asking who will be left to wave goodbye….