One of the first things I read in the NY Times is the obituary column. It seems to have become a must-look-at part of the daily paper for me. I’ve noticed an increasing number of paid notices, some of which cost upwards of $10,000 and have been wondering, why?

I think a notice is important, even if it is just to inform people why their calls are not being returned. I think a notice is important for those that knew the person to be aware of their passing. It also becomes an important permanent record of that person. In many cases, I read notices about people I haven’t spoken to in many years and it brings back fond memories and updates of their family. Recently I read an obit of someone that died who was married to a friend that I haven’t seen or been in touch with for over 50 years! We were casual friends through another friend and because of a tragedy they moved away and we lost touch. Seeing his widow’s obit brought me back to a simpler time but also to the tragedy. I did remember the good times. Another was someone I haven’t seen in probably 40 years and his notice listed his children who are now not only parents but grandparents. Each notice is a moment of reflection.

I’ve also noticed the lack of a notice. Some famous people that died had no mention in the paid section. The Times had some nice obituaries about them but no one took an ad. The absence of at least one charity taking an ad made me think that maybe they were not charitable, and that is a regret and perhaps a blot on their memory. Some people do not want any published notices because they are either very private or do not want to cause attention to the passing (or maybe to an empty house during the funeral that would attract some nasty thieves).

Many times charities place the notice as an “incentive” to present and future donors to give more so there would be an obit about them. But then, many of those ads contain the names of the entire executive board and all of the past co-founders. I wonder about that cost. Some people really grieve and a short ad is a way to share that grief.

One of the ads that caught my attention was a pretty lengthy ad that gave a Cliff Notes version of the person’s life. It was someone I knew quite well, played golf with and had lunch with a number of times. It is also someone I met after his successful career which I knew about, but what I didn’t know was the extent of his service in our armed forces, the many charities he co-founded but had lost touch with by the time I met him, and even his industry and college leadership activities. The obit was impressive, but it did not tell me who he was. It told me what he did, but who was he? How did he think? What were his values? What was he most proud of… inside his heart? What advice would he have liked to give to his grandchildren or what part of his past would he have wanted his children to be aware of and learn from? What disappointments did he experience that had the most impact on him? Who did he wrong that he wished he could take it back?

I suggest that those so inclined write something now to convey inner thoughts, dreams fulfilled or unfilled, wishes, values, people that have helped them or who they helped and how and even some tips or secret sauces learned that could be passed on. Even recipes, learning techniques or investment methods. Whatever might influence a younger person. Jot it down. Neatness or order doesn’t matter – just the thoughts. Another thing you might do is organize some of your old photos, particularly of your parents or grandparents. Just put them in different envelopes or write on the back who is who. Sometimes kids like looking at this. These are not burdensome or overly time-consuming projects. You can even do this while watching something on television.

Most obituaries are last-minute things although some carefully write it out for the pages of the NYT or similar papers or for the clergy that will officiate at the half-hour funeral ceremony. Wouldn’t it be better if a well thought out memorandum, statement of values or a video was left behind? Or perhaps shared during a period when it can influence some changes in others or even answer questions?

If you have any tax, business or financial issues you want to discuss please do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected].

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