Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Confession Booth

For as long as I can remember, my grandmother has had a somewhat morbid obsession with obituaries. She reads nearly every last word of the snippets about the recently deceased, and then guesses what caused the unlucky soul's demise.

These diagnoses go in spurts. A few years back diabetes seemed to be her favored method of death, especially if the small picture of the person seemed obese. Too skinny and she surmises AIDS to be the fatal disease. For teenagers suicide is nearly always the call, even when there is a front page story about a car load of high school students in a fatal crash.

Death is not a funny subject but this has gone on for so many years that her habit has become a source of teasing in our family. If one of us throws out a wild guess or comes across as being a bit nosy the retort is usually something like, "Now you sound like granny."

Well I'm saving them the trouble. Today I'm using this blog as sort of a confessional.

I used to work with a guy whom I never got a long with despite we both being avid sports fans. We talked, said hello, and never had a confrontation of any real sort, yet it always seemed like a competition somehow. I guess we were what you call Frenemies.

A few months back he got fired. Truth be told I didn't feel all that bad for him. He'd screwed up and he paid a price for it. His wife had left him a few months before. Then another friend saw him and told me both his car and house had been repossessed. Again, I didn't feel any great surge of sympathy.

Today I came into work and there was a note taped to the time clock. The man had died. I stood staring at the stark black ink on the white paper taped there. Shocked, I muttered, " Shit."

And then I did what my grandma has done for years. I made a wild assumption. My mind immediately whispered, "I bet he committed suicide." He'd lost everything ... his wife, his daughters, home, job, car.

I asked myself if I could have done something. He'd needed a friend. I could have picked up the phone and called. I felt true sympathy and a good bit of guilt. Then I heard that I was wrong. A massive heart attack had claimed his life. I'm still saddened that a man in his mid-forties dies so young and left behind young kids, but I m glad that he didn't just give up. I'm glad that his daughters won't wonder why he chose to leave them fatherless. And yes, I am a bit ashamed at my quickness to assign the cause of his death.

21 comments:

Joshua said...

it may seem sad but alot of people do that. I read the obits not to guess how they died, but more as to see who died. i dont watch alot of news and am usually quite suprized to see someone famous or someone I knew died. We're just sick f*&ks thats all :)

Barrie said...

Talking with my sister the other day and we were able to name several people we knew who had committed suicide. It was shocking and very very sad.

the walking man said...

Human nature is human nature, in this case it sounds like some self introspection is not uncalled for but on the other hand unless you caused his heart attack...I had to get my funeral clothes out 9 times in '06 Travis...get yours out this time and hope it's the only time this year.

SUV Mama said...

It is sad when someone so young dies- friends OR enemies.

Melissa Marsh said...

At one of my former jobs, I typed up the obituaries for the local newspaper. I worked one on one with the local funeral homes. Interesting job, but people really would get upset if there was something wrong in the obit. I can understand - it's like the last "word" on that person's life.

March to the Sea said...

well you never said "I wish you would DIE" or anything. It is odd..I hate death. It ruins everything.

spyscribbler said...

Wow, that is sad. He probably died of stress, I would guess.

These are tough times, for sure.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Don't we always want to detach a death from ouselves-either because it's something we probaby won't die of or because we feel guilty about something. It's all so scary that our reactions are likely to be scary too.

Linda McLaughlin said...

I understand your guilt, Travis. It's tragic when someone dies so young, even if it's someone we didn't particularly like, but none of this is your fault. I really feel sorry for his kids. That's so tough.

Linda

Marla said...

My Grandmother and my husband's mother always did that. My mother in law was the worst because she was convinced the obituaries determined things about how the world would end one day. She would say, "More and more young people are dying now. The end is near." Gadz. She has now passed on from smoking related illness. Her comments on the obituaries always creeped me out. To this day I won't read them.

However, I then get paranoid that someone will pass away and I won't know about it and it will be someone important to me.

Vwriter said...

A friend of mine who used to write obituaries confided this story to me:

Every now and then people would die in her town who had little or nothing to their name, including no living relatives (that she could locate). She began to feel depressed at not having anything positive to say for them in her obits.

So, over the years, she began making up bits and pieces of positive things in their lives. Eventually, she would create entire lives for them. Her idea was that they deserved something, and that she had the power to give it to them.

She had retired from the job the night she told me about it. She felt guilty about leaving the homeless, poor, and lonely with no one to create lives for them. But, she couldn't bring herself to tell her replacement what she'd done.

preTzel said...

Goodness...I wasn't expecting this from you Travis. Do not assign guilt or blame on yourself over this. Sadly the man lead a life different from you and that's okay. You did nothing wrong.

Chin up mate, you're a good friend.

Janna Qualman said...

That's heartbreaking. I'd have done the same second-guessing if it had been a co-worker of mine.

Georgie B said...

Please don't worry over this. We've all done this from time to time and to dwell on this is simply not a good thing to do.

Sometimes, you just have to move on.

yellowdog granny said...

i just read the obits just to make sure i haven't made it ..

Michele said...

Wow. I'd react the same way you did, no doubt. Times are definitely tough.

Robin said...

Yeah, you always think that a contemporary, much less a co-worker, won't die such an "untimely" death. I'll never forget my "first" death of a contemporary, a friend in high school who, of course, had a wreck a week after graduation. I had faced death many times in my huge family but never someone My freaking age! It made me swear to act as if each day were my last. It lasted about 2 weeks.

Now? I read the obits in morbid fascination and people younger than me die, people older than me die...I am past immunity if there ever was such a thing.

Made ya look at mortality eh? Sucks. I am sorry for his children and family. Eat some veggies Trav...suck it up man...I know it made you think about your wife and kids and how fragile it all is. Grab your nuts, man up...and eat a damned carrot!

Monnik said...

It's sad that he lost his life like that. I know someone who also lost his wife, job, and a custody battle. He, too, died of a heart attack shortly after all of that. Sad.

I think your grandma's obsession with the obituaries is an interesting one. I admit it - I peruse through them too. Which is bad for me since I tend to get stuck on the sadness of reading about a child who's passed on.

Hilary said...

Your granny so reminds me of women I used to work with when I was 20-something and they were.. well there were pretty much the age that I am now.

Our office building faced a funeral home. A group of women in one department would keep tabs on the obits so that they'd know whose funeral it was they were witnessing from the window fives stories up. As they watched, they expressed what they thought the person had been like and how their families might be coping.

I used to joke with my younger co-workers that if I were to die while they still worked for our company, I'd want my friends to put one of those waving hands which were popular at the time (similar to this one) on my hearse.. just for them. Bye-bye, ladies!

Beth said...

Your assumption wasn't so "wild." We all try to make some kind of sense of the tragic death of someone so young.

alex keto said...

Hmmmm,
A guy gets fired, loses his wife, loses his house, loses his car and loses his kids and he has a massive heart attack?
No not suicide but he had a lot of stress