obits crabby

Dear Crabby,

There’s four full pages of obituaries in today’s paper. As always, when I read some of them I think, “Gee, I wish I’d known them!” or “I knew them, but I never knew THAT about them! Wish I could still ask ’em ...”

So, I had the idea of running obituaries while folks are still alive. (Obviously, there wouldn’t be any death dates or funeral arrangements in them.) That way people would find out neat things about you while you’re still around, and come talk to you and get to know you better — not just feel extra regretful at your funeral.

What do you think?

Sincerely, Enlightened Mourner

Dear Mourner,

I forwarded your question to my dear friend Simon Sizer who, in addition to writing a music column for our SCENE section, is this paper’s obituary clerk. I asked him whether company policy would allow this. As Simon tends to, he sent back a well-considered and kind of funny response. Here it is:

The boring practical answer is no. Basically by definition obituaries are for the dead, and we require third party confirmation of death of some sort (from a funeral home, a cemetery, a previously published death notice, et cetera).

We do have a number of ways people can make announcements, or have their accomplishments noted, of course: weddings and anniversaries, birthdays, school honor rolls, sports stats ... But a more generalized, magazine-
 profile-esque service is unfortunately not one of them. It’s an interesting idea, the sort of thing the social pages in newspapers of old charted over a more extended period, no? Though on a personal note, as someone who has taken to heart that White Stripes line “When I hear my name I want to disappear,” I am not sure this would be without its drawbacks vis à vis social horror.

So there’s that.

Cool as living obituaries sound, I understand our policy. There are practical journalism-y reasons we don’t allow people to write (or have someone else write) their own stories for publication.

Also, though I don’t really share Simon’s social horror at the thought of publicity, I do think obits of the living would be awkward. I mean, obits are paid content. What we’re talking about, when you distill it to its essence, is people buying ads to tout themselves or their loved ones. That’s a level of vanity most people (politicians excepted) aren’t willing to display publicly.

That’s not to say I don’t sympathize with you. The wish-I’d-have-known-that-
person-better thing happens to me all the time. Maybe the solution is simpler than living-obits, though. Maybe it’s just curiosity and inquisitiveness. If we introduce ourselves to more people, if we ask them more about themselves, if we make the effort to learn about them beyond small-talk banality, then we won’t find ourselves wishing we’d read about them when they were alive; we’ll actually know them.

Some of them will enrich our lives. Others, eh, we’ll wish we’d just waited for the obit.

Hope that helps.

Sincerely, Crabby

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