A few years back, someone I knew ever so slightly died. Though I didn’t know him well, I knew him to be mean, egoistical and quite a bully.
Stories abounded of his greed, including how once he cheated a man out of a piece of land, then sold it at a profit. He financed it so when the buyer ran into money woes, he quickly reclaimed it and sold it again. The few times I crossed his path, it was not pleasant so I preferred to steer clear, as did many others.
News spread quickly that he died in the middle of the night. I happened to be out and about town that day and encountered several folks who mentioned his death. No one I met cried or expressed sorrow. A couple people I spoke with told personal, hurtful accounts of dealing with him. Everyone else just shook their heads and quietly cast knowing looks. Not once did I hear, “Bless his heart.” Though one person did say, “Poor preacher. He’s really got his job cut out for him with this one.”
When his obituary appeared, I read it with amazement. It listed his civic duties, his church contributions and a children’s home that had once been touched by his generosity. There was nothing in the words I read that resembled the man I knew or the man I heard was known by others. The obit was about a man noble, selfless and kind. Four people sent me a copy and asked incredulously, “Did you read this?”
For the rest of the day, I pondered over that obit and here are the thoughts that circled over and over in my head:
Will I be remembered dramatically different by people than the good things heralded in my “goodbye, world” death notice? That was pretty unsettling.
Once I got past that, though, I thought, “Is it possible to hire a public-relations firm to manage your image after you’ve departed?” I spent a portion of my professional life in public relations, so I know all about spinning situations and how, if you write enough press releases and fudge the truth enough, it is possible to turn a bad person into a good one. We see that with public figures all the time.
You may think I’m crazy, but I’ve come to the conclusion that his wealthy family hired a PR firm to write his obituary like a star-gone-bad hires a firm to remake his or her image. Except this would be the first time I’ve seen it done in death.
Or maybe I’m completely off and the person described in those glowing terms existed, but it was just a well-kept secret. Or perhaps that’s the way his family saw him. I’ve known a couple of folks who were mean as all heck to everyone else, but were the softest, most loving people possible to spouses and children.
Nonetheless, when I die, I don’t want to be built up to be more than I was. After seeing that overdone obit, I’ve decided that all I’ll need will be a couple of paragraphs to list the necessary facts such as date, time, arrangements and survivors and even that much is not necessary. That being said, I called together Tink and my sister, Louise, and issued instructions.
“I’m like Mama,” I said. “When I die, just put in the paper, ‘She died.’”
They protested that it wasn’t enough, there was more to be said. And they’re right. When my time comes for my heavenly reward, I hope my obituary will say, “She died. And once she went Disneyland.”
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