Last night I had to write my first obituary, and it was for someone still living. See, my grandfather, Charles D. Southard, has always wanted to see what I would say about him.
It’s not like it was initially a morbid request or fascination (my grandfather is not known for wearing all black all the time if that is what you are thinking, Goth Senior Citizen), I’m sure it began as a real point of curiosity built out of a joke. He wanted to see my reaction to the request, and I’m sure it was funny. The problem is that this desire has stuck with him, and for twenty years, I would hear about this from time to time; if anything this interest has grown into something more, both for him and for myself.
I admit I avoided doing it. I’m not a superstitious man, I didn’t think he would just drop dead the second I did it; honestly, I just didn’t think as a writer I was capable of doing it. How do you sum up a person, a life, in only a few sentences?
He is 92 now and sick in a hospital. The moment I have avoided for years is upon me and I need to let him see it before he goes, because that is what he wants. Frankly, I couldn’t avoid this problem much longer, no matter how much I wanted to.
Looking at obituaries in my local paper didn’t help me at all. There seemed to be about three kinds of obituaries:
- The sad lonely ones. A few sentences of a life that seemed to have missed the better part of living.
- The religious ones. How the Lord can fit that many people into his arms every day is beyond me.
- The personal ones. Sometimes they almost felt too personal, but really, this is the kind my grandfather is looking for.
The best example I can give of what he was like as a grandfather is what he would put me through on Christmas morning when I was young. Many times without my grandmother’s awareness he would hide my presents. I would get a big box with a note in it, telling me to go someplace; thar location might have a new note and it might be a riddle, but it would lead to another note; and another. Once, without my grandmother’s knowledge he had me go to almost a dozen locations in his house.
I knew I could always count on him and my grandmother; they had my back. They attended every band concert when I was in school. I don’t know if you have heard junior high bands, but that is like taking a bullet in my opinion. He also supported my brother and my college education. When I needed a new saxophone, he also taught me about loans and finances, by purchasing the horn for me and creating a payment schedule for me to pay him back, a great lesson and my credit score has always been good because of it, I am sure. When I moved out to Los Angeles, he would write me letters, typed on an old typewriter (my grandmother would scribble notes apologizing in a way for his “silly”observations at the bottom of each). As you can imagine, when he does go, I am going to miss him terribly.
There is one memory from my early years that my grandfather loves to tell me about. I have probably heard this a hundred times if not more. I probably was about one or so and just starting to talk and I loved to ask the same question. I was saying “What’s that?” but it would come out as “Poo’s that?” Anyway, as my grandfather would tell it, it was a late evening. He was babysitting me and he decided to carry me outside. So there he stood under a light pole, holding me, trying to explain the light and the stars to me in that quiet night.
This was my first attempt:
From beginning to end, from good to bad, Charles D. Southard lived the life he wanted to live. If asked he would tell of his travels circumnavigating the entire globe, his exploits during the China-Burma-India Theater in World War II; and his time in the air force, rising to the rank of Lt. Colonel. If life and the world could be seized and enjoyed to the fullest, Charles D. Southard did that in spades. Beloved father, grandfather, and great-grandfather he will be missed by all who knew and loved him. With his questionable sense of humor and fast wit, his departure from this mortal coil will leave a silence at his family’s gatherings that will be hard to fill. While others liked to call him Charlie, to his family he was known as the Head Rooster. Charlie was preceded in death by his wife, Mary Jane Southard. They met while both attending Michigan State Normal College before the war. She was looking to get to know more about Chaucer, he was looking to get to know more about her. They were married on July 7, 1943, and were together for over 60 years, before her passing in 2008. He leaves a son, Scott C. Southard that he was very proud of, Scott’s wife Diane (who Charlie liked to call DiDi the Dancer), two grand children (Scott and Adam), as well as their spouses (Heather and Susan, respectively) and children (Greyson, Elliott, and Hadley)…