Thursday, January 11, 2007


I just submitted Kirk's obituary to the local paper. Just one of a long list of things I didn't imagine myself doing at my age - heck, at any age really.

I was thinking about what an odd thing it is to do - paying to write a few words that are meant to sum someone up. Naturally, as I'm sure anyone would do, I had to go look up the etymology of the darn word. (Do you want to hire me? I speak dead languages and know what 'etymology' means!)

Obituary: 1706, "register of deaths," from M.L. obituarius "a record of the death of a person," lit. "pertaining to death," from L. obitus "departure, a going to meet, encounter" (a euphemism for "death"), from stem of obire "go to meet" (as in mortem obire "meet death"), from ob "to, toward" + ire "go." Meaning "record or announcement of a death, esp. in a newspaper, and including a brief biographical sketch" is from 1738. A similar euphemism is in O.E. cognate forðfaran "to die," lit. "to go forth."

So before 1706 no one bothered with the whole litany of life and survivors thing. Maybe it was a great newspaper coup with some brilliant marketing mind putting together the miracle of cheap press and the strange fact that nothing sells like death.

I've read a few obituaries recently in a market-research kind of way. It's an odd sort of writing - there was one gentleman who apparently managed to 'pass on' "without tasting the fear or pain of death." I rather wish they'd said a bit more about that; I'd like to know how he managed it. There was a woman who boldly suggested that instead of flowers, people should contribute to her family's trust fund. I quite liked that one - she'd written it herself in the first person and someone had just filled in the dates and things. Talk about having the last word.

Kirk's is, I'm afraid, pretty plain. I felt that the obituary (I'm starting to hate that word, but I think if I just use it three more times in this post it'll suddenly become really, really funny. Maybe) was the place to say what Kirk would want said about him. The memorial, the one we're having this weekend, that's where we can say what we want. But the obituary should say what was important to him. Of course, once I decided that, it became nearly impossible to write anything that seemed adequate. My family tends to save things - understatement that is perhaps explained best by saying that they catalogue and save Instant Messaging conversations - so there's a horrifying feeling that writing this simple obituary (two more to go) is Talking To History. Still, the kids helped me, and we did our best.

It's just... well, if you feel the need to clip it out of the paper and stick it in some scrapbook or something, keep in mind that Kirk... well, Kirk couldn't really be summed up that way.

Maybe we should have just said:

Kirk von Ackermann. Father, husband, friend.

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