I’ve been spending the last few snowy days trying to keep the kids occupied (see the video above) and reading obituaries.
There were plenty of final tributes in the Stuart Papers, the 600 page collection of personal letters, essays and obituaries that belonged to my third great grandfather, William R. Stuart, Sr., copied for me by the library at Mississippi State University. Some of the obituaries are remarkable because of the deep passion with which they were written. Others are great finds because of information they reveal – names, ages, and birth dates of relatives I didn’t even know existed. They also tell of military service (seems we had a relative who fought in the Revolutionary War!) and give hints to personal character and affinities.
There is also what they don’t tell.
One obituary for Col. W.R. Stuart, Jr., my second great-grandfather is entitled, “Death of a Distinguished Southerner.” It’s a stirring tribute to a God-fearing man who served his community and country by volunteering in the Civil War. But the closing sentence stuck like a knife:
“He left no children.” More accurate would have been “he left no white children.”
Even in death, we have some control over our story. It makes me wonder how honest I’ll be with my own history and if the telling of it shouldn’t be left to some objective third party like the son who wrote this very honest and unusual obituary a few years back.
What honest-to-goodness truth will we learn (besides that you’re dead) when we read your obituary?