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7 Lessons from the Obituaries

I know. I know. I mean who reads the obituaries. I’m still old fashioned. I get a print newspaper delivered to my house. It’s an old habit. I saw my dad pore over the newspaper. I’m following his way.

When I read the paper, particularly the Sunday edition, there’s a large amount dedicated to the obituaries. I know that many people want to avoid that section—like its something that might happen to them. Some give a casual glance to see if there’s anyone they know.

But there are lessons contained in those obituaries. Here’s 7 lessons, I’ve learned:

  1. A good and faithful life. For many of the obituaries, the people mentioned are in their late 70s, 80s, even 90s. These people have nice comfortable, warm and honorable write-ups. They’ve lived a good and full life. Their obituary is more of a well-deserved send off.
  2. A life cut short. In contrast to the aged saint, there’s the young person—maybe in their 20s, 30s, or 40s. We shake our head wondering what happened—disease or accident–that caused their departure before what we perceive as the “normal time.”
  3. The Unknown Story. Sprinkled throughout are the obituaries, which are just a few lines—a name, maybe an age, and the time of the funeral. We know so little, and we wonder so much about their story. Did they die alone? Are there few people to mourn? Or did the deceased want no fanfare, no mention?
  4. Everyone has a story. Each and every single person in the obituaries has a story. At one point, they had a family, whatever semblance it may have been. There are stories of military service, businesses started, churches attended, people touched. In the case of the brief obituaries, there’s still a story—we just don’t know it.
  5. The best stories have love and service. You can tell when a person was loved. The words overflow, but it was because of the kind of person they were. They loved, they gave, they served. Love for family is a hallmark. Service to others and the community seem to be commonplace. I do not recall reading a single obituary that mention someone’s financial net worth.
  6. Everyone has one and will have one. The death rate is 100%. We will all have an obituary—printed or not, short or long, glowing or not.
  7. We write our obituaries while we live. Our obituaries are written while we live; we just leave the pen to someone else to do the actual writing. None of us believe our grand destination is the obituary page but we will all get there. But the journey to that destination defines the narrative that may well end up in those brief words.

The message? Live well. Live with adventure. Love heartily. Give your life away.

About Bill High

Bill is CEO of the National Christian Foundation Heartland. He works with families, individual givers, and financial advisers to share the foundation’s message regarding biblical generosity and charitable giving. He is the co-author with David Green of Giving It All Away and Getting It All Back Again: The Way of Living Generously: www.givingitallawaybook.com. » Learn More

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