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Obits As Fairy Tales?

Patricia Sullivan

The growing popularity of obits comes under scrutiny in this little essay in the online magazine Smart Set. I'm not sure I agree with it all, and I object that her research was limited to a single financially challenged newspaper, but FWIW:

[O]bituaries aren't interesting because of what they say about death. They're interesting because of the funny and pathetic way they purport to deal with the unfathomable. Obituaries are little fairy tales we tell ourselves, while imagining our own lives as one day complete enough to write about. An obituary, any obituary, transforms lives into stories, with interesting characters, a cohesive plot, and most importantly, a good ending. This is what we've got as humans -- not the ability to understand or be at one with death, but the ability to generate lots of stupid crap to fill in the empty space of the unknown. Obituaries can do that as much as anything, and maybe we can think of them both in the Franklinian and Aristotelian sense: They might not complete life nor make it eternal, but they can make us feel better about living in the constant and terrifying presence of death.

By Patricia Sullivan  |  May 5, 2009; 6:04 AM ET
Categories:  Patricia Sullivan  
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