To assist my daughter in her research of the family history, I sifted through the papers of my deceased parents and found the obituary of my paternal great-great granddaddy, Billy Smith, printed on the front page of the Henry County Weekly, in Georgia, on May 5, 1899. What follows is the unedited piece with an obvious lack of commas. (The comma-bias in these times might be our subconscious attempt to right the wrongs of our comma-phobic ancestors.) It reads:
A good old Pilgrim gone to his reward. The highly esteemed and greatly beloved old brother Smith after a warfare of four score years passed across the dark sea on the morning of April 20, 1899. His death occurred under peculiar circumstances. Some months ago he was bitten by a dog that proved to be rabid. At all events he died with every symptom of hydrophobia and after a few days of most horrid suffering he surrendered his life to the chilly waters of death. It will suffice to say old Uncle Billie Smith was a sincere devoted faithful servant of God conscientious in all that he did, his long life record testifies to his religious profession. We will have said enough when we say he is resting in the hope of a glorious resurrection when the night of the grave shall lose its darkness. Sweetly let him rest.
From the same newspaper, another obituary, dated November 22, 1895, is the following excerpt:
I am thankful to the Deity that he has permitted me to gaze on the unspeakable splendor of the noontide. While yet I spoke behold it was evening in the purpling western sky slow sank the sun to His ocean bed and lo an old woman the gray beams of the twilight mingling with the few rays of the morning which still clustered around her splendid head. Withered and dying were the garlands of flowers, and faded were the violets of her eye, but that far way look told me she now beyond the twilight into the land of sempiternal sunshine, of endless morning-the land where crystal waters ever flow from fragrance giving fountains to wander through those groves of unimaginable perfume, watering the lilies and rose gardens of God.
Another entry, dated October 22, 1897, however, was barren of sentiment:
We are informed a white farmer […] ended his life last Tues by the use of some opiate. No cause is assigned for the rash act but it is thought to be accredible to temporary insanity.
Natalie Pompilio writes an excellent article for Obit.com magazine, entitled Video Killed the Obituary (obit-mag.com/articles/video-killed-the-obituary) that as the title suggests, discusses people making video obituaries of themselves, the most notable, Art Buchwald, courtesy of The New York Times. I suppose someone will come up with a delivery service of posthumous tweets: Hey, everybody! I’m dead. LOL! No, really, I’m dead. Are you serious dude? Serious as a heart attack. Oh, wow, bummer! : (
As for me, I shall fly on the wings of Orpheus and our eyes shall be averted from Hades and the laden, sterile ground of earthly spirits, but rather fixed upon the tender mercies of God’s grace. The sonorous voice of Orpheus shall rise in harmony with an angelic chorus to herald my ascent o’er the golden fields of life’s final harvest onward toward the pearl encrusted gates of Heaven as below this shuffled off mortal coil dreams the dreams what may come. (A nod to Willie Shakespeare).