Posted by: Catadromy | February 6, 2011

In Loving Memory

I read the paid obituaries in the New York Times every day.  I fell into this habit a few years ago when one of my cousins died and, due to her philanthropic work—which was quite extensive and covered many, many organizations—she merited a large number of these, spread out over several days.

I’ve grown to love these life stories in miniature and look forward to reading them.    Some of them are placed by co-workers, law firms, medical facilities, schools and the like.  Some of them are mundane tales of ordinary people, whose families loved them, miss them, want to hold onto their memories and create a patch of immortality for them, no matter how small, for a brief moment.

When my mother died, I asked my father if he’d like to place one for her in the Times and he declined.  However, when Dad died, I did place one for him.  It was my way of paying public tribute to his memory and securing for him that momentary patch of immortality.

Most of these obits are stories of people who have lived long, full lives and died well into their eighties, nineties or even past the century mark.  Some of them died when they were my age or younger, eliciting a wince from me as my own mortality flashes by.  A few of them have died shockingly young, sending me to my computer, seeking further details on the circumstances of their deaths and those are indeed tragic.

Sometimes, these tales are unintentionally hilarious.  Names somewhat altered out of respect.

What to make of Peter Cambridge, who ‘was never happier than in a hotel suite where he could smoke his cigars and eat his favorite  “junk” food (typically hot dogs with lashings of mustard and vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce).’

Oh, Peter Cambridge!  No wonder you’re gone at the age of 72.  Your favorite food was hot dogs a la mode.

And you, Henry Lippincott, who has listed among his survivors, his four horses.  By name, no less.  His human survivors didn’t get that level of attention, though.  I doubt that the horses wrote the obit (or paid for it), so the onus for this one doesn’t fall on the horses.

Kudos to Gertrude Prescott, who died at the age of 94 while on vacation in Greece.  She obviously lived her life to the fullest and seized every moment.

Here’s to you, Linda Elinora Mainbaugh, whose obit aside from her family members, includes pets, current and deceased—by name—thereby earning each one of them an obituary in the Times.

Honorable mention goes to Horace Linton 82, who died peacefully at the kitchen table, surrounded by his wife, children and sisters.  This leads me to ask the question–did he plop face first into the mashed potatoes?  Was the family playing a rousing game of Scrabble when Horace decided to take his Final Pass rather than play out his tiles?



  1. This is great, Marla. You and Mitchell should talk. He reads the obits in the LAT every day, but I don’t think he gives as much thought to them as you do.

  2. Marla, this is terrific, although I truly thought you were the one that wrote “I hate people”.

  3. I, too, read the obits in the L.A. Times on a daily basis. Sunday’s are my favorite obits, as they tend to be paragraphs in length, and I get to read them while still in bed–drinking my favorite, piping-hot coffee.

    I often marvel at what many people have accomplished during their lives, whether it’s for 10 decades, 6 or as few as one. My life’s “accomplishments” seem so mundane when I read about so many others’ contributions to mankind….or just to their families, who are obviously writhing in pain at the loss of their loved one. I feel so small and insignificant when I read about what these dearly departed souls have “given” the world. Some are philanthropists, whose bios read like Wikipedia; others are just “one-liners.” Some have great-grandchildren, some are gay, some obviously overdosed or committed suicide (i.e., “please send contributions to the Blah-Blah-Blah Mental Health Center”). Some are 5th-generation Los Angelenos, while many are midwest transplants. It’s easy to know so much about a dead person, even if they’re a stranger.

    Who will remember me when I’m gone? What have I done in my 5-1/2 decades that is so interesting? Should I write my own obit to make sure that what I want people to write is actually written? Will someone–any acquaintance–recognize my name when they see it? Do we all just wind up with a 2-inch-long paragraph in the L.A. Times, that runs for all of two days?

    I cut out the obit for my father. And for my girlfriends Judi and Barbara. None of them was ready to have me read about them in print.

    Sundays, obits and piping-hot coffee. A strange combination, indeed.

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