It just so happens, on most days, I read the obituaries. Sometimes I don’t get to it—yesterday, I did. I go first to the editorial page, then to the front page and read forward. Next I hit the Jumble and finally, the obituaries. Here’s my system. I scan the pages for the Jewish stars first. That’s my best chance of finding someone I know. I always look at the pictures, and last I’ll check the last names. If my husband is still home, and I find a winner, I tell him about it. nine out of ten times he saw the same one. David reads the obituaries too.
To find a “winner” means the deceased is someone we know (unusual), the parent of someone we know (most common), or someone we could know because they were our age. I also notice an obituary that tells a good story. Maybe it made me cry, or smile. Maybe it was someone who did something special in life. It was lunchtime when I got to the obits and I saw someone I knew. Ricki Miller was the wife of my dad’s former business partner, Al. The Millers were in my life when I was growing up, but we lost touch after the partnership ended. I called my mom to tell her Ricki died. “So sad,” she said, “Al will be lost, theirs was a true love affair.”
My mom stopped by my apartment later in the day and we read Ricki’s death notice together. Her husband Al loved her completely; deeply and unconditionally. His poem to her was, “This I will remember, when my life is through, the best thing I have ever done is simply loving you. Good-bye honey, my sweetheart, my pretty girl. I will always love you.”
My folks are in their early eighties, and they too have a true love affair. We always joke about how lost my dad would be without my mom, but it’s really no joke. It’s not just that my dad doesn’t know where the washing machine is, they truly live for each other. My mom tells me that Dad wrote her a love poem. She showed it to me; she carries it in her wallet. It’s a yellowed clipping from a newspaper and my dad scratched out “anonymous” and wrote in his name as the author. It’s a reflection by a husband on why he has a happy marriage. He gives all the credit to his wife, who is “whip smart” and understands him completely.
I think my mom wanted to tell me about it just in case anything should happen. It’s not like I would have to dig up material for her funeral. My mom was the “honoree” during the wedding toasts when my daughter got married. She said no one has to write a eulogy for her, because all of the speeches gave accolades to her that night. But, she worries—because she feels deeply. Is that what happens when you get older? She feels every ache and pain, like never before. Her time spent with her grandkids and great-grands is beyond joyful, it’s like watching the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup over and over again.
Intensity. That’s what a deep, true love is and that’s what living a happy life feels like. A subtle fear of knowing what you have to lose. A constant awareness of just how blessed you are. I think of Ricki and all the other two-inch segments of life stories I read about in the obituaries. I give thanks to God, for lives worth living, love felt deeply, and dear sweet memories.
For Debbie Miller Antkowiak and all the daughters who miss their mother today:
“My Mother, My Self”
Nobody loves you like your mother.
Fussing with your hat, doling out superfluous advice:
“Stand up straight!” “Look both ways!”
Putting up with our selective amnesia
as we forget to bring home our report card—again.
I want to know her back story,
what she gave up for me.
Help me understand the woman she was.
Allow me to dream her dreams,
the ones she put on a shelf so I could fly.
She wanted so much more for me than she ever had.
Show me the grace to remember the times fondly,
when she harped on me, and pulled my strings.
I’ll make my own music, inspired by her,
knowing she stands proudly in the wings.
—Ruth Williams, prayables.com