I normally don’t read all of the daily newspaper but the obituaries fascinate me. The word “obituary” is the English-language version of the Latin word obituarius and means simply a report of death (obitus). This final earthly report provides grieving loved ones an opportunity to commemorate the deceased person and to state something they consider significant about his or her life. Obituaries also reveal how we look at death, from many fascinating angles. People might describe the loved one’s transition from this life differently in various parts of the country or world, but these are some of the ways they have related it this weekend in Houston, Texas where I live.
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Marda Glison, like most people in the obituaries, “passed away,” evoking a vision of a journey now progressed beyond our sight. Paula Luca “passed away while doing the Lord’s work,” which says much about her priorities in life. Other journey-takers included Martha Benson, who “left this earth peacefully” and Deborah Simms, who “departed this life.” This world is full of toil for some and life can be wearisome. One of those, Wilma Cooper, “laid down her burdens” and another, Deborah Carter, “entered into eternal rest.” However we view it, death marks the end of biological life. From that standpoint, Jane Bowlus “died,” Al Parker “expired” and it is written of Robert Wiggins, Jr. that “his short life ended.”
Sometimes obituaries focus on the destination toward which the loved one has moved. Bobby Brown “went home to be with his Lord.” Latonya Johnson “entered her resting place with her heavenly Father” and Hayden Sherrill’s relatives report that he “went home to heaven.” Our times are in God’s hands, so Shirley Hoke was “called to be with her Lord and Savior.” William Godfrey’s relatives present the larger perspective in announcing that he has “answered his final call from his earthly duties and now awaits his call to eternal life” in the resurrection.
None of the Houston obituaries these past two days stated that the decedent “fell asleep,” which is by far the most common way the Bible describes this matter in both Old and New Testaments. However, William Cullen Bryant (died 1878) had that figure in mind as he concluded his poem “Thanatopsis” (A View of Death) with this picturesque exhortation: “So live that when thy summons comes to join the innumerable caravan that moves to that mysterious realm, where each shall take his chamber in the silent halls of death, thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night, scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed by an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave like one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him and lies down to pleasant dreams.” When our time comes, may we indeed be found “asleep in Christ” (1 Cor. 15:18).