Wednesday, November 08, 2006


november, originally uploaded by patryfrancis.

The truth is we write it every day. Not the one that appears in the newspaper, but the real one. The one we write with our words and with our gestures, with every step we take to every place we go, the one we think and breathe and read on the faces of those who love
us. And yes, on the faces of those who don't.

The obituary that changes every day.

The one we write every time we say yes, and perhaps even more clearly with our stubborn refusals. The one that is wide enough and long enough to encompass what we see--and also what we turn our faces from. The one that records all that we know and also takes note of what we never allow ourselves to imagine.

No newspaper piece has ever captured the truth of a life. That truth is not found in who we married, where we were born, or where and how we did our work, or who stood at the funeral and mourned us. At least not completely.

Still, I continue to read newspaper obituaries. In today's New York Times, there was an obituary of a man named J.J. Servan-Schreiber. The headline called him a "French man of ideas." If one must be forced to wear a title in death, I rather like that one.

The obituary spoke of Servan-Schreiber's "many careers in many countries: Writer in France, teacher in the U.S., hotelier in Brazil. He started a controversial magazine, wrote a book on the torture he saw in Algeria; won and lost elective offices..."

But I especially liked President Jacques Chirac summation:

"One life wasn't enough to contain his energy, crativity and enthusiasm so he forged multiple destinies."

So here is your existential question of the week. If you were only allowed a one line obituary, what would you want it to say?


Anonymous said...

Hallo patry, thanks for your comment on my blog, would you go back and have another look, cos I made a bit of a boo-boo....

gerry rosser said...

Well, no one-liner for me, I plan to live forever. Well, more realistically, I would select: "He was kind."

rdl said...

Aren't you going to write it for me? :D

Bernita said...

"We will always miss you."

Kagemusha said...

I make my students write an obituary as an ice-breaker on the first day of class... this was an interesting post, insightful and clear.

Nick said...

I don't know about an obituary but I know what I'd like put on my tombstone:

What are you smiling at? - You're next.

Anonymous said... first, tricky girl.

I love reading obits in the Sunday New York Times. In certain cases, they make me cry, sympathetically, because it is evident how much the people who write each one have personally loved the person who has died, and selfishly, because I'll never know the person myself.

One of my other favorite bloggers, Evan Genest at Two Dishes But To One Table, wrote a wonderful post about this almost a year ago, to wit:

Kitty Schwarzschild (1908 – 2006)

Be sure you read the comments.

Patry Francis said...

ainelivia: Too funny!

gerry: He was kind and he took amazing photographs.

r: Got you covered.

bernita: The true longing of the human heart. To be missed.

jcr: First, welcome! And what a great ice breaker. I would love to read some of those...

nick: Can you hear me laughing?

sara: I was waiting for someone to notice that I hadn't posted mine. Actually, I do have one in mind.

I too have been known to cry for the obits of strangers. Very much looking forward to my cup of tea this afternooon when I will get acquainted with Kitty Schwartzchild and post my line.

Robin said...

Well, this kind of creeps me out, but how about:
“Here reclines Robin, who never did figure out the lie, lies, lied, lay, laid, lying, laying thing (there's probably a good joke there about too many lies and not getting laid enough, not to mention a propensity for laying it on thick -- but obviously someone else should explore that one).

Other possibilities:
"Finally finished the laundry."
"Tried to leave things a little better than she found them."
“Finally, a diet that works.”

Or, how about:
“I have left a treasure for you – the first clue to finding it is at the Smithsonian, in Washington, D.C. – near the stingray skeleton, but you must wear a fedora adorned with pink feathers while you look for it. Good luck.”

Ha. Then I’d haunt the Smithsonian, of course.

I still love one I’ve seen around the Internet from time to time:

“I told you I was sick.”

The Curmudgeon said...

I wrote before that, on my tombstone, I want only one word: "Vacancy."

But a one-line obit? How's this:

He did take it with him!

Kristin Ohlson said...

I'm no good at one-liners, so I won't even try to write one.

But I am so drawn to the obituary pages. I like the ones in our daily paper, with just the short, sort of scripted texts underneath. What I'm drawn to are the photos the families choose. It's so tremendously moving-- all these little faces looking at you from a good moment in their lives, when they had no idea what was coming. Well, as we all are-- clueless about what's coming.

robin andrea said...

I don't read the obits because we stopped getting a daily paper when we retired and moved "away from it all." Of course there is no moving away from dying. My one line obituary:

She felt things she could never adequately write about, saw things she couldn't photograph, and dreamed about a perfect world her entire life.

Anonymous said...

One line obit:

He did his best.

Kerstin said...

After reading Todd's I am tempted to say:

"She did her best and died anyway"

But that would be too cynical. Maybe something like this instead:

"Her restless gipsy soul found solace in the love for her husband, yet here she is, travelling once again."

Lorna said...

She came, she saw, she conkered

Zhoen said...

She couldn't be pretty, or friendly, or successful, so she became good and loving and useful.

I like the exercise, I'm glad I'll have a chance to improve on that.

Patry Francis said...

I cannot believe how marvelous these all are, from the hilarious to the pragmatic to the sublime and back again. It's also wonderful to realize that I know so many of you well enough that I felt how perfect your lines were.

My only quibble is with Robin, to whom I say, the laundry will NEVER be done, just abandoned.

I hope that you all will give them to someone you love for use in that distant time.

I think I would like mine to say:

She shared what she had.

It isn't always true, but as zhoen says, there is still some blessed time to make it so.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I think it's always true one way or another. :)

Here's me:

"She spent her life."

Patry Francis said...

Great one, Sara. These are all so wonderful they would make a great little book if collected.

Meanwhile, I found a couple in Ed Bradlee's obituary this morning. The final quote from a friend:

"He was proud of what he did, but he never allowed that pride to turn him into a star in his own head."

Or even better, in his own words: "I just want to get this piece done."

gulnaz said...

a most insightful post, patry and fantastic comments too!

Patry Francis said...

gulnaz: The comments were incredible. They made this one of my favorite posts. Still waiting for your line though...

JP (mom) said...

What a provocative post. My one line would be She loved others deeply and died deeply loved.

Thank you for this interesting challenge. much peace, JP

Anonymous said...

Boy, that's a tough one. Maybe "Still doesn't know what she wants to be when she grows up..."

donna said...

The Tao of the sage is work without effort.

Patry Francis said...

deborah: Makes me think of those final phone calls made from the World Trade Center. All of them seemed to want to leave the same message...the one thing that matters really.

marilyn: That applies to me on most days, too.

donna: I like that one--though it would probably take me several lifetimes to achieve it.

Jonathan Wonham said...

Hello Patry

Thanks for mentioning J.J. Servan-Schreiber. I've been reading about him in French on Wikipedia. He had an interesting life! I see that when he got married for the second time he split from both his wife and mistress, both of whom were/are well known French writers.

The obituary I hope for: "He wrote good poems."

Patry Francis said...

jonathan: Thanks for the footnote about Servan-Schreiber. Apparently, his personal life was as eventful and varied as his professional life.

"He wrote good poems." That speaks to so much more than just writing, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

Years ago, I read an obituary in a little old cemetery in upstate New York. It said: "The person who rests here knows why she lived." That single sentence has stuck with me since then, and I've come to realize that's all I want: to know why I was here.


Patry Francis said...

Truly wonderful, Diana. Now that you've left it here, I will remember, too.