It was nice getting to know you, Jean

Reckonings column by Della Mallette, June 10 Grand Forks Gazette

If you think that reading obituaries is morbid, then stop reading this column. But I hope you’ll read enough to think about why I do.

I used to buy a Province newspaper each day. Shirley Larson and I would take our break to have a smoke and start our crossword puzzles in the back stairwell of the Gazette building. I’d take the paper home and many evenings, I would at least skim the obituaries.

I quit smoking 10 years ago, the back stairwell is now boarded up, and I can no longer afford a Province every day.

So I love it when a coffee shop or restaurant offers newspapers to read. I don’t care if they’re a few days old, even a week or two. I read enough online news and emails through my job, that my choice of reading on my off time is an old-fashioned newspaper or book.

And I still skim the obituaries.

My husband brought a Province home recently so I had time to read the paper cover to cover. And there in the “Remembering” section was an obituary about a lady named Jean.

I was taken aback, I have to admit a bit amused even, when I read in the very first paragraph that she had passed away suddenly in a White Spot restaurant.

But then I read her notice of passing, as we here at the Gazette prefer to call obituaries.

Jean had suffered through life-saving surgery as an infant; as a child, she survived another life-saving surgery for a different ailment. The notice of passing called her a “miracle baby.”

She became an accomplished pianist, she excelled at art, she enjoyed badminton and volleyball. She went to university in the hopes of becoming an educator. Her dreams were altered, however, by a neurological disease and health complications that affected her previous abilities and talents. Jean persevered and carried on with her “new normal” by auditing university courses, painting, playing music and by all accounts leading a full life, very loved by her family.

And she enjoyed eating out at the White Spot.

I hope I’ve not disrespected the family by telling part of Jean’s story here, because it has a profound message. She overcame so much, she learned to deal with her “new normal,” and according to her notice of passing, “though her heart failed, she died with the purest, loveliest disposition that anyone could ever have.”

If you see the message, then you know why I read obituaries. The families of the deceased put in these notices of passing not just for themselves, to put in scrapbooks and return to regularly to reflect upon, but for others to perhaps spend a moment getting to know their loved one.

I’m reminded of a famous poem called simply “The Dash” by Linda Ellis. It tells of a man giving a eulogy, who reads out the deceased’s date of birth and death. And the man said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.

“For it matters not how much we own;

The cars, the house, the cash,

What matters is how we live and love

And how we spend our dash.”

I learned that Jean spent her dash with bravery, perseverance and the determination to live life to the fullest she possibly could. I don’t know that I could have, were I in her shoes—but I do know now that should I be faced with adversity, hers is a message I will remember.

I don’t reckon that’s morbid.

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