Beyond the bucket list

Obituaries — often interesting, sometimes vague — tell only part of our stories

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Inquiring into friends’ ‘bucket list’ items — those important things one wants to accomplish before “kicking the bucket” — I discovered most are for travel: Visit every national park in the United States. Go to Norway. See Africa.

I’d hoped someone would desire to bungee jump or help colonize Mars or — like me — learn to dance the tango, so I’d have something extraordinary to write about for this column.

But since no one did, I’ll turn it over to my retired airline pilot-writer friend, Dale Hagfors, to expound on another kind of list.

This one comes after the bucket has been kicked.

The obituary is that final summation of who we were. 

For a rich or famous person, it’s usually written in advance and kept in the newspaper’s files to be published at the appropriate time. Consequently, these obituaries are almost always well-written and compact. 

The obituaries of ordinary people are often written by the staff of the
funeral home, based on information provided by the family. 

Sometimes, a family member takes on the task. The results of these efforts tend to be the most varied and interesting. 

Some are overly full of praise and adoration. One can get weary of reading: “He was larger than life,” or “She could light up a room,” and the like. Others are wonderful little biographies that give us a glimpse into a stranger’s life.

Then there are those that describe the anguish of a life cut short. Some even courageously include the tragic details of questionable choices
or addiction. 

Often, family-written obituaries go to such lengths that we lose interest and skip to the next one. 

It can be equally frustrating to find one that doesn’t have enough information to enable us to determine if the deceased was maybe a classmate or friend from years ago. 

Photographs are useful with these obituaries to identify the person. Some families will choose a fairly recent photo. 

Others will submit a considerably older photo of a much younger person that can serve to remind us that this was once a handsome man or a beautiful woman. Sometimes both are given for comparison.

Occasionally, individuals prepare their own obituaries. With those, you feel you’re reading what that person thought was significant about his life, and you expect that it’s honest and accurate. 

Such honesty might leave the surviving spouse or child dismayed not to be called “the love of my life.” (But then, perhaps neither of them were.)

If you write your own obituary, it’s important to remember that when you’re gone, there’s no way to guarantee it will make it into print. Your survivors might just trash it and write their own! 

As for what Dale would like written in his obituary: “Just enough information so that the old dude in Naples, Fla., who still has the Star Tribune delivered, can say, ‘Yeah, I remember that guy.’”

Dale has no bucket list. He’s part of the “been there, done that” group.


Carol Hall lives in Woodbury. She’s a longtime freelance writer, a University of Minnesota graduate and a former Northwest Airlines stewardess. Send comments and questions to chall@mngoodage.com.