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What the final words say

When I was kid growing up in Dawson Creek, an old lady lived behind us who used to go to funerals for entertainment.

When I was kid growing up in Dawson Creek, an old lady lived behind us who used to go to funerals for entertainment.

It would be easy to say that she didn't know most of the people, but the truth of the matter is that in a small town, if you're old enough and have lived there long enough, you actually do know many of the people doing the bucket kicking.

As is the case with many youngsters, we shied away from all talk of death and just scratched our heads at Mrs. Eby's strange pastime. But I'm starting to change my mind about that eccentric old lady. It seems more and more that some of the best reading I'm finding in many newspapers, including ours, is showing up in the obituaries.

And although funerals are in many cases no longer celebrated, the number of obits are actually on the rise - and they're getting wordier all the time.

The best obituaries are written by folks who truly have the knack for bringing their dearly departed to life on the death page.

Some of the stories are heart-wrenching, particularly when a child or young person has their life cut short through illness or accident. Those sad remembrances are oftentimes the only way for parents, grandparents and siblings to say goodbye to a precious person.

Other times the memorial is a salute to a long life well lived. Some of them read like a modern history lesson. In some instances, the person was alive before the electric typewriter was invented, never mind computers. It boggles my mind.

Sometimes the goodbye piece is a way to get even. A friend of mine who had the misfortune of being the eldest son of one of the meanest men that ever lived used his dad's eulogy and subsequent obituary to get even. In it, the son managed to chronicle some of the nastiest elements of his not-lamented late father. The part where his dad made him eat a fried egg out of a pan where they had just discovered a dead rat was so grotesque that it was actually funny. It might have been too little too late, but I bet just writing those words was a catharsis for my pal.

I once heard a traffic person on radio opine that she hated the pictures of ugly, old people she kept seeing on the obit page. I couldn't agree with her less - I think what makes most old people beautiful are the wrinkles and paths of living etched on their faces. And although I find it fascinating to look at the current trend of a picture of the person in their early life beside one as they looked when leaving this earth, I still think, given my choice, the weathered one tells the story.

Sometimes obituaries open festering sores. Family tragedies come to light, and unholy rows take place about perceived errors in the goodbye pieces. Those are sad and, in my estimation, a disservice to the folks being remembered.

And finally, my last word on obituaries -I hate seeing the word "cancer" capitalized. If someone you love has died as a result of cancer, please don't capitalize the word - doing so elevates it. Let's beat it, not give it more power.

Here's hoping you won't be reading about me for many more years, but I'm not too worried - none of my kids had dead rat eggs.