Saturday, January 25, 2020


Obituaries are a thing.

America is an odd culture. We avoid the topic of death like a plague yet the Internet is packed with discussions of people who read the newspapers (and Internet) obituaries everyday of their lives and why they do it. A cursory examination of Google Scholar did not turn up any studies, nor could I find any data, on people who read obituaries.

There are many citations on Google Scholar about obituaries, to read them, how to write them, how and why to research them, what they tell us about the people they discuss, what they tell us about society in general.

It's interesting reading. You might take some days to study obituaries.

Why am I talking about them? 

Well, it's a lead in to my excuse for my absence from this blog for a couple of months.

First, a very close friend died. Learning can be…somber, but it's always potentially edifying. I learned that, as you get older and old friends die off, it gets easier to shrug it off. Bereavement is about loss, not pity for the deceased. After you loose enough, you get used to it and life teaches you that everything isn't necessarily about us. The world goes on.

When you know you are dying, you can either say, "I'm dying," or "I'm going to live until I die." Mike showed that it is entirely possible to do the latter with all the determination of a 20-something with nothing but life ahead of them. Another person I knew who "died well" was my father. You can learn a lot from folks like that.

A week later, I went to church and couldn't sing. The next day, my annual episode of bronchitis was in full swing. I have learned to expect it every year. Some truths are just nasty. So, for a month, I sat around hacking my brains out and wearing myself down.

A close friend and college math professor was scheduled to attend a mathematics conference in town and I had said that I would go with him. It was the week after my hacking cough had let up and I was flat worn out but I keep my word, and I really did want to go since I'm an amateur mathematician and it would give me something to blog about. I had the opportunity to go as his guest, which meant a 95% discount. On my pension, it was an offer I could not refuse.

Of course, it was mostly sitting through lectures and strolling around math art exhibits and vendors (I bought gifts for folks). There was a surprising lot about my own, not so deep interests - math education and statistics. So, at least I enjoyed further abrading my life force. And I got some close-ups of the big blue bear.

At least, between bear and horse, the more personable one is the more accessible.

Finally, I'm on the mend and I've even knocked out another terminal hike (that leaves three to go) and that will be the subject of my next blog.

I recommend not avoiding mental adventures like community lectures and conferences because you think they will be boring. It's all mindset. Things that you expect to be boring usually are.

Shake out the obituary section of a newspaper. Look at some obits online. Do they have a consistent structure? Do you know an obituary reader? If so, why do they enjoy reading obituaries? What do obituaries tell us about our attitudes toward death? What do obituaries tell us about our attitudes toward life?

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