I was listening this weekend to NPR’s show On the Media and heard this wonderful broadcast about the dying art of newspaper obituaries. The guest was Jim Sheeler, former obit writer for the Rocky Mountain News, which itself became a former newspaper in 2009. Sheeler is a great story teller and always considered the obituaries he wrote as an opportunity to tell a story. And given that everyone’s life is almost always a tale of complexity and contradiction, if one takes the time to listen to friends and family share their stories about a loved one who has passed on, there is much to tell. Sheeler often discovered his next opportunity by reading the blurbs released by funeral homes about the deaths of less than famous people. As in “she was a florist and a butcher.” I would have loved to know that story.
Of course, this all made my think about my own obituary, hopefully to be written years from now by people who mostly looked kindly upon my life. But that life, at least so far, has been both complicated and contradictory. Maybe it will get less so, but I kind of doubt it. Those complexities exist across all areas of what’s most important to me: family, friends, and work. I participated in the end of a first marriage, leaving all the damage of such an event in our wake. I’m almost 20 years into my second marriage and I certainly couldn’t claim to have been an easy partner. Well, I suppose I have tried to claim that, but my wife really has never fully bought into that idea. She does say I have been a very good and interesting one, which she claims is better than easy. Back at ya. I’ve raised three children from birth and a fourth from marriage. I can say without one bit of hesitation that each one is a beautiful young adult. One of my great comforts of my life today is the pride I feel for each of my four children and the sense I have that they will all be just fine from here on out. I do wish, though, my relationship with each was closer and that’s a place of real sadness for me. I’d have to say the same for my three siblings, whom I love dearly. And while my parents have both passed, I was a good son from start to finish. Not as good as they were parents, but that’s an impossible bar, so I don’t have any regrets there.
By and large, I think I have been a good friend to my very small group of best male friends as well as to the many social friends I have met over the years. The best thing I can say is that I show up and I have always believed that matters a lot. And my three best friends have been in that category for a very long time. I love that. While at times I regret not having more close friends, I also recognize I barely do enough to sustain those that I have.
I think in many ways my life is defined by my work. I think my wife would say that and probably my kids as well. And while many people might say what a shame that is, I don’t feel that way. At least not now. I’ve been fortunate enough throughout my life to do work that matters to people and I am mostly proud of how I have managed all that. And my work has always been about people and the relationships that I have formed at work have been a source of great satisfaction, many lasting beyond the time when the formal work relationship ends.
So that’s my life in a nutshell, the first 60 years of it anyway. I was a good son. I have tried to be a good father, brother, and husband. I show up, I hang in there, I work hard, and I try to take care of others the best I can. Come to think of it, just like my father did for 94 years.