My first byline was an obituary. It was 1997 and I was working on the City Desk at the local paper. “We’re short an obit writer today,” the editor said. “Want to fill in?”
I no longer remember the name of the deceased. But I do remember having to write a correction for the following day’s paper, and having to explain to the managing editor why I misidentified a DC3 as a “jet.” Fortunately, my error was forgiven and writing obits became a regular Saturday-afternoon gig.
I got to write about a much-loved professor, a prominent businessman, and about Bill Seaman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer. I was nervous about Bill’s obit because lots of my colleagues still remembered him.
Anyway … I loved writing obits, so I was delighted when my friend Tom (aka, “The Blogfodder”) forwarded an article from the Utne Reader about — wait for it — being an obituary writer. One paragraph jumped out at me, in particular:
We are collecting the best ways to die. That sounds cynical, but it doesn’t feel that way. No one wants to rot away from cancer or keel over from heart failure. Those benign-sounding sisters, brief illness and long illness, are the most perverse because of what they aren’t saying, especially in this conservative corner of the Midwest. Drug addiction, mental illness, AIDS. We respect the death notices that tell the truth, even if we don’t usually publish them.
I didn’t write enough obits to collect any truly outlandish demises. But occasionally I would pause to meditate about how I wouldn’t want to die. “I at least want an interesting obituary,” I remember thinking.
So if you’ll forgive my macabre (dare I say sick?!) sense of humor, here are my top three choices of how I’d like to buy the farm/kick the bucket/join the choir eternal/insert your own euphemism — and my top three thoughts about what might happen after.
Manner of death, in no particular order:
I love (love, love!) Paris, so I wouldn’t really mind expiring in the City of Light — but I’d want to do with panache. Leaping off the Eiffel Tower in an haute-couture parachute-suit sounds just about right.
I’m also a bit of an Earth mother, so I think I’d enjoy croaking in the great outdoors. But none of this “got lost in the woods and died of exposure” stuff for me, please. Getting crushed to death in a revenge-attack by a cactus sounds more like my speed.
My third choice is being swashbuckled to death by Johnny Depp. I couldn’t find evidence that this has actually happened to anyone—but there’s a first time for everything. (Dear Johnny: Call me!)
Final wishes (again, in no particular order):
I’ve often joked with Esteban that I’d very much like him to build a small trebuchet and fling me over the fence into the neighbor’s yard. Their trash has been blowing into our yard for years, so it only seems polite to return the favor.
As a more socially acceptable (but far less Monty Python-like) alternative, I’d like to have my ashes scattered near Oscar Wilde and Frédéric Chopin in Paris’ Père Lachaise cemetery.
I wouldn’t object to burial, though, if it’s more convenient than the first two options. All I ask is that my tombstone carry this epitaph: “I knew this would happen.” And please set it in Comic Sans.
OK … That’s about enough of my grim humor for one day. I’ll be back tomorrow with a more lively topic. (Pardon the pun.)