Cheer Up. Read the Obituaries!


Somedays it can be hard to find any good news in the paper. A recent Sunday was no
exception. A quick glance at the front pages of the first section and sports section found nothing to cheer me up. Experience told me where I could find the good news. I quickly turned to the Obituaries and resolved to read every one.

It is true that obituaries don’t tell the whole story. Lots of people don’t get an obit. No one writes an obituary that says the newly departed beat his wife and never paid their debts.
The obituaries that do get written remind us that many people live lives well worth living, lives that bring joy to others. Stories abound of people who rose from modest circumstances to do great things. Stories abound of the unexpected surprises that make us laugh.

That Sunday’s offerings provided many examples.

  • Margaret grew up in South Dakota where she was the dance partner of a young Tom
  • Bob honored his wife’s memory by teaching himself to make batches of her applesauce
    and blackberry jam.
  • Sharon spent 36 years teaching special needs students.
  • Mike was an accomplished colored pencil artist, while Paul was a prize winning water
  • Mary and her husband raised 5 boys “all of whom she was very proud of.”
  • George was an unlimited hydroplane driver.
  • Brian had a long career as an umpire.
  • Jack loved his time with the 12th Special forces, and enjoyed a retirement career of
    driving a Metro bus.
  • Joan added her beautiful voice to the church choir.
  • Rick loved his work, but he loved his wife more.

Many of the above were successful in business, respected jurists, or dedicated teachers. But it was the snippets I cited that I found most inspiring. I was glad to meet these people, even if only in their obituaries.

So when the first section reports news that’s almost too hard to read, and the sport section reminds the fans of all the reasons to be discouraged, my advice is take heart. The Obituaries can be found at the end of Sunday’s Opinion sections, and it might be the section you should read first.

John Rose
John Rose
John Rose is a past King County Budget Director and the retired CEO of Seattle-Northwest Securities.


  1. Totally agree, John. I now read most of the obituaries, sometimes finding people I knew. Many lives well lived. Nice to have them in the Opinion section, which I started at The Times in 1978, then called the Issues section. The obits are often much better reading than the preceding four pages of columns and editorials!

  2. Amen John and Sunday is always a good time to slow down, KING FM in the backround, reflecting on the week that was and will be ahead. Taking the time to read all the little stories that honor those who have gone before us and yes finding all those little vignettes that add color commentary to those lives.

  3. The problem with obits is that the dead people don’t get to read and enjoy them.

    My solution is that when I turn 80 in eight years (sooner, if I’m diagnosed with a fatal illness), I’m going to write my own “not dead yet” obit, and pay for the Seattle Times to publish it right next to the obits (assuming the Times itself hasn’t died, which is why I urge folks to subscribe and take their noses out of social media).

  4. Mr. Glickstein has the right idea. Charles J. “Jerry” Flora, former President of Western Washington University, wrote his own obituary which was printed in the Bellingham Herald after his death. It was the best I’ve ever seen, and I urge you to take a look at it. “Charles J. Flora obituary” will bring it right up in Google. However, not all are happily written. The book “Wisconsin Death Trip” compiled some of the more horrifying ones from rural Wisconsin. The NY Times tends to do it pretty well, and I usually read theirs. When I was young, I never read the obits because what was the point of reading about dead people? Now I’m no longer young, and the arc of people’s lives laid out in an obit has become more interesting.

    • The Flora obit is great. The greatest self-written obit—an epitaph, really—was Ben Franklin’s [punctuation and caps modernized for easier reading]:

      “The body of B. Franklin, printer; like the cover of an old book, its contents torn out and stripped of its lettering and gilding, lies here, food for worms. But the work shall not be wholly lost, for it will, as he believed, appear once more in a new & more perfect edition, corrected and amended by the author.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments Policy

Please be respectful. No personal attacks. Your comment should add something to the topic discussion or it will not be published. All comments are reviewed before being published. Comments are the opinions of their contributors and not those of Post alley or its editors.