Tuesday, December 16, 2008

For Dying Out Loud

This is the age of living out loud. Reality TV. Facebook. MySpace. Twitter. It is a time of ending relationships via a MySpace posting. Of virtual online romances breaking up marriages. Party pictures on FaceBook leading to career damage. You may have lived it.

Everyone who has ever worked on a newspaper or reads one knows that the obituaries follow a formula. Name, age, hometown, those left behind, job, memberships, service record -- that's pretty much it. And I've always thought that was pretty much what we should know.

I mean, look any human life of any years is, well, human. Everyone has done things they are ashamed of, or made mistakes they really don't want to talk about.  But unless you are a celeb or a politician, your dirt gets buried with you. Not anymore.

An old Air Force buddy recently sent me an obit from his big city paper that has taken the next step in living-out-loud movement -- tell-all real-life obituaries of the average joe. This special series is called "Tribute." And keep in mind that the family volunteers their loved one to be featured this series.

The particular "Tribute" he sent was on the life of an Air Force pilot who flew combat missions in Vietnam. This must have been the "tribute" part of his life.

The rest goes downhill. The tribute notes years of hard drinking, failure to hold a job, decades of estrangement from the family. Finally, during the last 10 years, a reunion of sorts. Redemption? Not quite. The son points out "he continued to be hampered by alcoholism and health issues even during the final years."

Another son points out that "for the first time in a long time, he would've been proud during his military funeral." Proud? He had to die to be proud? 

The memories offered from his grandchildren is that they looked forward "to his Christmas gifts." Hmm. What kids wouldn't look forward to those? Faint praise indeed.

The best thing his wife could say about him is "being a pilot was his absolute goal in life." She also pointed out that when she met him he was the social chairman of his fraternity and very outgoing. Considering the rest of his life as described by the family, I am pretty certain these were NOT compliments.

Why is this poignant to me? Small world. I knew this man in college -- he was a couple of years ahead of me at Rutgers and in Air Force ROTC, as I was. I vaguely remember the face and name but can't say l many direct interactions with him.

Since the last time I saw him in 1966, he lived a lot of years and apparently most of them not well. I am saddened that he lived his life in such a way that his family can't even forgive him in death. I am saddened that obituaries are written like this one.

The man's standard obit would have been enough for me. I would rather imagine a whole life lived within those mileposts knowing there were many, many bumps in the road.

A resident of Kansas City, he died at age 65 after years of poor health. He is survived by 2 sons and a daughter, and four grandchildren. He served as a pilot during the Vietnam conflict and flew 169 missions, for which he won many medals for bravery. He retired from the Air Force as a Major with 21 years service. R.I.P. I hope his family can find peace as well.

I think living out loud should be a choice only the living make.

No comments:

Post a Comment