Reading the Obituaries

by Phyllis Chesler

When did I start to read the Obits daily? At least forty years ago, not any sooner. Before then, I thought I would live forever, as would everyone I knew and loved. Mortality was not uppermost on my mind.

At first, when I put my shoulder to this wheel, I remember noting that women did not seem to die or at least, there were few featured biographies of female homemakers, mothers, kindergarten teachers, nurses, secretaries, or volunteer workers. If their deaths were noted, they were paid for by grieving families and appeared in small print.

Good news, I acidly thought! Women are really eternal, we occupy archetypical space, like the nameless statues of Justice or Liberty. Eventually, over time, some women, those who were stockbrokers, corporate executives, lawyers, judges, artists, authors, philanthropists—in other words, women who had entered previously all-male fields and who had prospered—were given their due in print.

I now read the obituaries for entirely different reasons. First, I want to honor those who have passed. Second, I want to see whether it’s anyone I know, or at least, someone whose work I know. Lastly, I check their ages: Are they older than I am, younger, or simply much too young?

I am now of an age in which so many people who I’ve known, worked with, even loved, have already died. I keep their names on my various versions of Ye Olde Rolodex. I will not delete them. Each time I see their names, I pause, remember them, think about them.

Life is too damn short. Pray for this mighty sinner. I did not gather pretty little rosebuds while I could nor did I live each day as if it was my last. I was always working, always on a mission, always reading, always trying to make a difference, but, for some time now, the years have begun to fly by as if they are merely months. And months have become weeks. This is how one experiences time as we age.

May everyone rest in peace and may I still have “many miles to go before I sleep.”

I hope you do, too.