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Sneak Peek: The Obituary Mission

I’ve spent the last three-and-a-half weeks working my tail off on the book. I’m making great strides, but I still have a long way to go before calling the first draft complete. In the meantime, I want to give you a sneak peek at an excerpt from the letter I wrote Sunday, February 10, 2013 — 2 days after Papa passed.

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Dear Papa,
Today I set out with a task no daughter wants to fulfill:  buying a stack of newspapers with her father’s obituary inside. Mama and I decided we should have approximately 10-12 copies to make sure there’s enough for everyone in the family who likely wants one. A single copy was delivered to our doorstep, but I needed to gather the rest.
I suppose for some people this would be an odd keepsake, but as long as I can remember, we’ve always kept newspaper copies of obituaries for family members. Even while I was at college, Mama sent me obituaries when people passed away back home.

Sunday papers are pretty popular, so I had to make 3 stops before my collection was complete. I moved in slow motion each time I got in and out of the car. My emotions have manifested themselves into a physical burden, and I feel a heaviness bearing down on my body. At the last gas station, as I dropped my armful of periodicals on the checkout counter, the attendant presumed me to be a master of frugality asking, “You like coupons?”

I softly corrected him, “No, my dad’s obituary is in the paper today.”

“Oh no! I’m so sorry. How old was he?”

This is a common pleasantry people (myself included) always seem to ask when learning of the death of someone we don’t know. It’s as though the answer will offer us a chance to extend a more personalized sympathy. “Eighty-five? Wow! What a full life he/she must have lived.” “Forty-seven? Oh my! That’s way too young. What happened?”

I answered, “Sixty-eight,” and he offered a sympathetic “that’s too young” shake of the head. I thumbed to the page where your image accompanied the CliffsNotes to your life, and showed him your photo.

“So handsome!” he remarked. “He was a good man?”

“Oh yes! He was a wonderful man.”

Was. Past tense. How can I speak about you this way? You are still wonderful to me. I’m not ready to put that in the past.

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