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Ask Ellie: Finding inspiration in the obituaries of strangers

Obituaries, sad for the families, shine a light beam on the adventures, achievements, and especially, the love a lifetime can bring to those who seek and honour it.

Dear Ellie: I’m a woman, early-40s, who routinely reads the obituary pages in newspapers — including my city’s newspaper and The New York Times.

I’m not unwell, nor expecting that people close to me will die in the near future … though like many unfortunate people, I lost an elderly aunt in a seniors’ home and a health-compromised neighbour to COVID-19 in early stages of the pandemic — a very sad time for everyone who lost someone dear.

I’m also not a morbid person fascinated by death or fear of it… not at this age, and hopefully never.

The truth is that I read the obits because I appreciate the rich fabric of a life that someone’s lived with purpose and adventure, achieving personal growth in their own humanity and appreciation of others, even if they’re strangers to me.

Above all else from these mini-profiles, is the joy when reading about someone who embraced a love that didn’t fade throughout their years — whether for a partner, dear friend, colleague, mentor, and all the grandchildren within their caring circle.

I know of some people who joke that they only read those profiles to congratulate themselves that they’re not on the page. “There’s still time ahead,” my late grandmother used to say.

But I conclude differently, feeling that “the time is now.”

Age 43 is ahead — still young, but requiring more thought on how to be the person I want to read about when it becomes my time.

If I love, it must be deeply. If I care about others, I must show it — whether through simple statements, a helping hand, or being charitable where and when there’s need.

What do you think about my fascination with obituaries? Is it really just a nosy interest in strangers I’ll never know?

Looking Ahead by Reading the Past

You’re not alone in your fascination with the lives of those who’ve truly “lived” throughout their years.

It’s a way of recognizing what’s possible now, especially while at an age of energy and good health, and committing to blazing your own trail forward.

Keep reading those insights in the obituaries — how, from distant origins, courageous people emigrated to unknown places, with little knowledge of their new surroundings and even less help.

Yet despite some reaching material success, it’s the stories of the many who enriched the lives of others, that are the most inspiring.

Dear Ellie: My once-best friend from university recently pretended to not recognize me. We were both attending the 20-year anniversary of our graduating class but I hadn’t expected she’d be there as she lives out-of-town.

Our old friendship had withered when she’d said that a newer friend of mine whom she’d met once, was “a phony,” and “dangerous” with others’ husbands.

Well, that maligned woman has remained a trusted close friend!

Why would someone with whom I once lived in a small dormitory room and shared hours studying together, pretend that I looked completely different (with a negative meaning) as in “you’ve had a lot of work done.”

Wrong. I’d become fitter after having my second child, and most people say I look better for it!

What’s Her Problem?

She’s no friend to you, being bitter and/or jealous about something. Her nasty insult about your other friend begs the question: What prompted the “husbands-beware” warning?

The only good news: She lives out of town.

Reader’s Commentary on Mother’s Day this past May 8:

“Many mothers are asked by their children what they’d like for Mother’s Day.

“Understandably, florists and businesses selling chocolates looked forward to recouping COVID-19 losses.

“However, if asked what they want to commemorate Mother’s Day, most mothers would probably prefer and treasure a card or letter with sincere handwritten words of appreciation. A very simple gesture, inexpensive, not too time-consuming.

“This is a gift which shouldn’t be requested. Asking for such acknowledgement is like asking for an apology. It should be offered of one’s own free will.”

Ellie — A thoughtful approach but there’s no one-size-fits-all for gifts, whether for moms/dads or anyone else.

Flowers, candy, and perfume are considered staples of the day, heralding the spring we hope will last. Jewellery is art, and/or an expression of taste, or status.

Hand-written expressions of love and admiration, however, go straight to a mother’s heart and soul.

Ellie’s tip of the day

Obituaries, sad for the families, shine a light beam on the adventures, achievements, and especially, the love a lifetime can bring to those who seek and honour it.

Send relationship questions to ellie@thestar.ca.