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There's much to be learned from our final stories

(So, funny story -- well, not really -- I had a new column written for the week and then hit some unfortunate combination of keystrokes that made it disappear. As in, vanish. Gone. No more. Byebye. With that, I pulled out this old gem -- again, not really -- from six years back.) Earl was a former fire chief, Ralph a professional photographer, Terry a master baker. We don't know what Carole Anne did in her 71 years, it doesn't say, but Emily was an expert markswoman in the Marine Corps. Neat. That's something you don't see every day.

But you do see obituaries in each and every issue of the daily newspaper, usually toward the back of Section B, in relatively small font size, because, you know, space is money, even in death. Or especially in death. If you die, and you want your name in the paper, it'll cost you. There is no free funeral lunch no more.

Not to be morbid, but I thought maybe we ought to talk about obituaries this week. Just like your next haircut, you know you're gonna' need one someday, but you probably won't get a coupon for $2 off on Tuesdays. No, don't make no difference what day you die, it's gonna cost you the same.

I was paging through a major daily newspaper the other day, and came across more than two full pages of notes about people who 'passed to eternal life,' 'was reunited with her husband,' 'went to meet Jesus in glory' or just plain 'died.' Turns out exactly how you went will someday be described by whomever pens your death notice, so you'd better be nice to that someone. You'd hate to have them one day tell the world, 'He finally shut up.'

There were 81 obituaries in this day's edition, which seems like a lot, but in a city of a few million, not so much. Only 20 of the departed souls were sent off with photographs, while one -- 88-year-old Frank -- got a POW-MIA logo with his obituary. Turns out he was a prisoner in World War II, and the proud grandpa of four. I hope he rests in peace.

Obituaries in newspapers are seldom free anymore, a sign of the times, since paid advertising doesn't bring in as much money as it once did. Death subsidizes the news nowadays, and I'm guessing the 81 souls who were so recognized on Nov. 6 generated a few thousand dollars in revenue for this particular publication. Especially Adelle, who got 78 lines. Benjamin, an Army veteran, got but three. That don't seem fair.

Newspaper readership surveys consistently show that obituaries are one of the best-read sections, and I don't think it's because we're looking for someone there who we knew. I think we're all a bit enthralled with death, aware of its finality, and the realization that we all have an appointment with it, even if it'll probably never show up in our monthly planner. All those people there in those few pages, well, their time came, we read, and now they know if there's really anything over on that other side. Roger knows, and he was an avid golfer who loved Corvettes and racing. And, Shirley, she sure enjoyed those trips to Hawaii. Wonder if she's wearing a grass skirt where she is now.

Obituaries can be chock full of interesting tidbits about people's lives, and that's why I enjoy scrolling though those of strangers of whom I probably was never within 50 miles. Virginia, for example, loved dogs, had several in her life, all named 'Lady.' I like dogs, too. I think we might have gotten along well.

Lillian was a fan of the Packers, Brewers and Bucks. Helma was good at painting portraits. Mary Jane owned a ceramics store, David was a pharmacist, Darryl enjoyed politics and fishing (though probably not at the same time), and Diane was a Sister of St. Francis for 64 years. Arthur, it turns out, sang in barbershop choruses, my favorite music.

by TRG Editor Dean Lesar

James was a skydiver and a school bus driver, both things I wouldn't have the courage to do. Daniel was a cop for 32 years, and was 'well-respected on the force.' Good for him. Bob loved to help decorate for Christmas at his Catholic church, 'hanging at least a zillion lights.' A zillion. Wow. Bob sounded like quite a guy.

For every person listed, of course, there are dozens left to grieve. Gertrude left three kids, nine grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren. Nicholas had eight kids of his own and they had 13 more who had another three. Carol is missed by her husband of 53 years, their two kids, a sister, five grandkids, two great-grandkids, and 'her dear doggie.'

I've set many an obituary in my 27 years at this newspaper, and almost every time I think to myself while doing it, 'Is this all there was to this person's life?' I mean, there it is, condensed into a few short graphs, their birth date, their wedding date, their job, their hobbies, a list of their loved ones who survive, and a list of those who don't. That's it. End of story. Funeral on Friday at 11 a.m. Nephews will be pallbearers.

It's too bad, but money limits what will be said about a person upon their passing, again, especially in large metro newspapers, where lines of type roll into dollars faster than the numbers on a gas pump with fuel at $4 a gallon. It makes a difference where you lived and died, it turns out -- here, you can get a full life-end story, with photo, for $25. Try that in Milwaukee or Chicago, and your family will have to take out a loan to tell the world you've gone. That bothers me, because I wonder about Blanche, who lived 91 years, but got just four lines in the paper. She died 'peacefully,' that's all we're told. Phillip and Therese, married for 50 years, died on exactly the same day, and together, got a photo, and 33 lines of words. And then there's Birdell. Age 78. Oct. 31, 2013. Nothing more.

By fortune of her family's fortune perhaps, we find that Adelle liked family, friends, children, travel, adventures, music, scouting, museums, zoos, flowers, trees, gardens, wildlife, the seashore, reading, crossword puzzles, scrabble, volunteer work, knitting, crocheting, cooking, baking, jokes, laughter, sharing of memories, and hearing and telling stories of life. Birdell probably liked some of those same things, but we'll never know.

We do learn that John ran a furniture store and liked to windsurf, a combination not often found, but told in his short notice. Arlene liked to read poetry and listen to Bob Dylan music. Debra died of breast cancer, at 48; Luigi made it to 98. Anna, a crossing guard, had a 'legendary' passion for bingo that was 'only exceeded by her love for her family.' Tyler's friends called him 'The Gump.'

As for Darryl, well, he 'definitely enjoyed life to the fullest,' or so say his 36 lines in the newspaper. And Bob, who hung all those holiday lights, 'His big heart is finally at rest, no more pain and stress.'

That's nice to know.