‘Reading the obituaries of strangers is more entertaining than the comics’

Aug 18, 2021
Barbara's unusual hobby is reading the obituaries. Do you have an unusual hobby like this? Source: Stock Photo/Getty Images

I so love reading the obituaries and not from a macabre point of view. I remember how I teased my dad who always read the ones in the Saturday Herald.

“It’s a good day when my name is not there yet,” he’d chuckle. “Of course you’re not really, properly dead unless your name is in the Herald obits,” he’d continue, “and the Saturday one is the crème de la crème. Wednesday’s tributes are not as important.”

I’m doing it myself now. Time has gone on, the way it does, and now I’m the oldie. I find I quite enjoy browsing the obits.

Apart from the obvious relief and a tiny bit of amazement I’m still on the planet, I read and count the number of children in the family and what extraordinary names their grandchildren and great-grandchildren have. Since gender seems a bit ‘fluid’ these days (an interest topic of conversation in itself), names like Mackenzie and Tatum, which could be for either a girl or boy, are popping up.

I also see that cities and states from the United States and other countries have become popular names. Nevada is popular, as is Montana, Sienna and Paris.

From a multicultural perspective I note with pleasure a variety of non-Anglo/English names turning up in the obits, which I try hard to pronounce. ‘We’re all in this together’ someone said and I love the mix of cultures in Australia.

I keep track of interesting bits of information too. One pinned on my fridge recently — I just had to keep it — refrained from using the more usual descriptors, such as ‘a fine gentleman’, or ‘will be greatly missed’, or the Latin ‘Requiescat in Pace’ and had a simple word: ‘bugger’. How heartfelt.

I imagined a good bloke who said, “G’day Cobber”, to his mates and probably organised fishing trips and had a garage full of useful tools. It’s likely he drove a Holden and liked a good meat pie with tomato sauce. He would have been the quintessential Aussie bloke and would be really missed. The family pets get a mention now too, which I just love. Will be ‘sadly missed by his beloved cats Blue-Ears and the Village Idiot’. I’m not sure if the cats would like to see their names in print but …

As well as these gems are some totally awful mistakes. They are unfortunate for the family who paid money for each line, but make for entertaining reading.

I found one congratulating the dear deceased on his ‘close nit family’ and imagined the whole family rushing to the chemist to buy stuff to rid their heads of this nasty bug. We need a new type of spellcheck to fix this. The family would no doubt want a refund since every line costs money.

Coronavirus has meant many changes to what we consider ‘the usual funeral service’. Only a few people can attend and many notices advise of a celebration to be held at a later date or arrange a live stream event.

Before Covid-19 restrictions people were asked to wear certain colours indicating the deceased’s colour preferences, or were told not to send flowers but instead make a donation to a certain charity. You know by this what was close to the person’s heart. Funerals have become small and private.

Who’s to say this trend won’t continue when Covid-19 restrictions have passed? Funerals used to be such grand and sober affairs.

I own a mourning ring, which was popular way back and bought for the family to wear in remembrance. I found it in an antique shop. It’s black with a little diamond in the centre. I wonder who owned it originally? Instead of mourning and wearing black, in our society it seems people celebrate the wonderful life lost. I think we mourn in private now.

But back to the obituaries. A recent gem put the deceased person’s name — a female name, ’Jennifer’ (names changed of course) — then went on to say, ‘Beloved husband of Arthur.’ Now I’m aware of all the gender fluidity discussions happening, but had the lady, fairly late in life, made such a significan change, or was this a terrible printing error? One will never know …

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