At the edge of foodie-culture is the practice of “dumpster-diving.” What practitioners sensibly advocate is an enlightened approach to finding food that has been needlessly discarded, some of it into dumpsters. What’s fully rational about this idea: There is hope and nourishment in what’s at first-glance NOT a place to find useful sustenance.
I think there’s a partial connection here to the spiritual and emotional nourishment older adults can find while immersed in obituaries—a word whose Latin roots indicate “going to meet death”. Perhaps resembling lifestyle dumpsters, these descriptions of recently departed loved ones can do more than remind us of disease or death. If we look closely enough, it’s possible that fuel for our lives is there for the taking. The following reflections from my daily obit-diving may help you understand how this practice could be helpful for you.
My submergence into obituaries has been a long-standing practice. I regularly check the daily newspaper, weekly newsmagazines, my denominational journal, Living Lutheran, and my congregation’s “For All the Saints” notices. Hidden here-and-there are wonderful lessons for life, encouragements to remember what’s important and perspective on how to live fully in these times. The most poignantly written tributes become powerful testimonies about the value of a life well-lived.
Take today’s obits, for example. I have been reminded about the extensive networks of survivors that remain after a beloved one’s death—a legacy that grows over time. I have seen the delight that comes from hobbies and volunteering. About humor, kindness, love of nature, being part of a church and work well-done. Some of today’s obits reveal how well the departed person was known and respected. Other entries describe the influence this person had on those surrounding her or him.
Reading carefully, I can see places where someone’s life was difficult, how well the person dealt with life-threatening disease or distress, where readers are invited to reflect and remember alongside a family, how a person’s faith permeated their life. Each obit today tells how these good folks died “surrounded by friends and family”. The entries mark admirable qualities like devotion, joy, care, love, determination, respect, generosity, grit, friendship, honesty, altruism and passion.
Longer obituaries get deeper into the life and personality of the person who has died. That’s where I find specific encouragement for the places in my life that may match the life circumstances of the departed loved one: Work hard; don’t give up; remember what lasts and what doesn’t; hold tightly to your life goals; care for your family and friends; love deeply; live joyfully and fully; thank God for your spouse and never ever underestimate your blessings.
Mixed into all these death notices are subtle prompts for lingering thoughts. I realize the rich variety of life experiences that makes up this country; how death can come to anyone, at any time; how every life story deserves to be told. In each case, I imagine how fiercely those who composed these obituaries wanted the rest of us to know the significance of their loved one’s life. So that we understand both what we have gained and what we have lost. This may be a noble and necessary last benefit that can come from a death notice.
My obit-diving, then, is something I find satisfying and comforting. Knowing that there are good people out there—just like these who have died—I can live my life fully, assured that my eventual obituary may have some positive effect for others.