I read an obituary yesterday that made me stop and think about how we are described by others. In a society where most women work outside the home, we are often tagged by others with our job title or described as “Jake’s mom”, “Fred’s wife” or some other relationship reference. Gary often jokes that no one knows his real name…he’s just “Mary’s husband”. Better than being known as “the woman who looks for dead people”. Lol But all kidding aside, I hope that each of us is known for some character trait uniquely ours or something kind and enduring we do for others. Many of the obituaries of the past described more of a woman’s life and deeds because the writer didn’t have a job description as an alternative. I like the idea of being identified as more than “teacher” or “writer” or “gardener”. Even though each is truly a major part of what I do, none is descriptive of who I am.
The tribute I read yesterday was written for Mrs. W. R. Crossett in 1928 and said, “She lead a useful life, one of kind deeds as well as kind words”. The editor of the paper had used the term “useful life” before to describe Mrs. Bilbo, one of Caddo’s most active community workers. Reading that phrase always makes me wonder if people wouldn’t be happier leading a useful life instead of so determinedly pursuing entertainment and financial gain.
Sometimes the writers of obituaries wax poetic and as my son says, “everyone who dies becomes a saint”. Indeed, we don’t like to speak ill of the dead. So perhaps some of the words written about them are little extravagant, as in this tribute to a young mother who died with her infant: “Her work is greater than rulers of kingdoms, leaders of armies, or angels of mercy on the battle field; her life comprises so many things, but always important.” But I think that more often than not the essence of a person’s life can be aptly described by those who lived around them. I think that regardless of a person’s job title or prominence in society, most of us categorize those around us by their deeds and words, and as we think about those who have left us behind we remember the character of who they were, not what they did to earn a living.
So, let’s all try to lead a useful life, one of kind deeds and kind words.