Gettin’ Up There : Confessions of an obituary reader

Signal Staff Writer Diana Sevanian

By Diana Sevanian

Signal Columnist


Call me an Obituary Page aficionado, for throughout much of my life, I’ve been fascinated with how other people have lived theirs.

How did they spend their dash? I’m referring to that vast little space between one’s birthday and death day.

This very human interest of mine – deemed morbid by a few fellow corporeal beings – has largely been fueled by a desire to see what lives “read like” when they’ve been well lived. Such synopses of existence are often a source of inspiration – and even provide reminders of what to focus on during my own temporary residence, while hopefully sweetening the memories I leave behind.

So, every morning, cup of coffee in one hand and obit notices in the other, I humbly step inside the biographies of the deceased.

Some obituaries quickly catch my eye and reduce me to tears and frustration. While they are present much less frequently than those of full-fledged adults, these obits tell of the little children and young adults; precious blooms cut short due to cancer, genetic disorders, trauma/suicide, and other major misfortunes. My heart aches for their families.

The unfairness of their brevity clutches me. But then I am reminded of something a longtime friend and psychotherapist, Judith Harris, often told her elderly support group members who complained about the unfairness of their own life circumstances: “The only fair is in Pomona.”

The obits that I selectively hone in on are usually for men and women who lived full and cherished lives. These are the lengthy giving trees of golden information. Some only made it to age 50, but most saw at least 80 candles on their last birthday cake. Regardless of how far they journeyed along the mortal timeclock, all tended to share certain commonalities, besides being sorely missed now by their mourners.  


Making a positive difference

They lived with integrity, intention, and passion. They deeply loved and were deeply loved back. Many were devotedly married to the same spouses for their entire adult lifetimes. They cherished their families, friends, communities, pets, gardens, and making a positive difference in other’s lives. They worked hard to get what they had. Of course, they were also human, replete with faults and weaknesses, but when faced with challenges they worked even harder to overcome them. They built businesses and people up. They remained active and engaged until their bodies and/or brains gave out. These were the dreamers, planners, sharers, faithful companions, adoring matriarchs and patriarchs, selfless caregivers, ageless learners, forgiving souls, relentless contributors of compassion and humor, and so much more.

From these obituaries I witness testimony to what is of authentic and ever-transformative value. It’s not about the tchotchkes, bank accounts, eyelash length, or groovy titles. To love and be loved in return, to consciously function as if you are going to die one day, and yet live as if you never will.

A thought-provoking message, titled “The Dash,” was given to me years ago at a friend’s funeral. Sue Stone, who died in her prime following a long, courageous battle with metastatic cancer, made sure when pre-planning her service that all attendees received a copy. Each sheet also had a loving handwritten reminder from Sue, imploring us to read the words and live our days accordingly. Written by Linda Ellis, here is The Dash:

“I read of a man who stood to speak at a funeral of a friend. He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning…to the end. He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears – but said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years. For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth. For it matters not, how much we own, the cars, the house, the cash. What matters is how we lived and loved, and how we spend our dash. So, think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change? For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged. To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more. and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before. If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile…remembering that this special dash might only last a little while. So, when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash, would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?”

Wishing you all your best dash…


Diana Sevanian is a Valencia resident, longtime Signal journalist and contributor, adoring mother, grandmother, and dog-mother, and is currently working on her own dash.

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