After Life’s Fitful Fever

“Elegy: Blind Musician” by Mikhail Vasilevich (photoshopped by I-and-I)

. . . I need not rehearse
The rosebuds-theme of centuries of verse.

                                                                        Richard Wilbur, “A Late Aubade”

Although posthumous fame is essentially worthless to what Perry Mason and Hamilton Burger call the decedent,[1] humans tend to want to be remembered after their deaths, hence tombstones, epitaphs, and those memorial verses we find on obituary pages. As I have no doubt mentioned before, I actually enjoy reading the obituary page, even the obituaries of complete strangers. Perhaps it’s the poet in me who is interested in how the writer goes about compressing a life into the narrow confines of a column of newsprint.[2]  Generally, however, I skip the memorial verses, which are generally godawful jingles heavy on end rhyme.

For example, below you’ll find a bit of elegiac verse I copped from a publication called National Post. On its website, I found a page devoted to “Memorial Verses” with this option:

Choose a verse from the appropriate category. Alternatively you may want to copy and paste the verse into the place a notice order form. When placing a notice, please identify the verse by its number to your Classified Telesales Representative. You may also change any of the verses or write your own.

Conveniently, the editors have classified verses by relationships: “Mother, Sister, or Daughter; Father, Brother, or Son; Wife or Husband; Children; Friend or Kin; Armed Forces; Prayer Corner.”

Here’s the first choice listed for a mother.

A wonderful mother, woman and aide,
One who was better God never made;
A wonderful worker, so loyal and true,
One in a million, that mother was you.
Just in your judgment, always right;
Honest and liberal, ever upright;
Loved by your friends and all whom you knew
Our wonderful mother, that mother was you.

Of course, in my native state of South Carolina, not many would want to tar the woman who labored to bring them into the world with that vile word “liberal.” Last night during the debate between Nancy Mace and Joe Cunningham, the former used the word “democrat” and “liberal” as they were synonymous with depravity.

Thank (in this case, given the diction of the verse) God that the purchaser has the option of changing the diction.

Just in your judgement, always right;

Honest and reactionary, ever upright. 

Indeed the alliteration in “right” and “reactionary” and “upright” is an auditory improvement. 

So it has occurred to me that in my retirement from teaching, I could make a few extra bucks composing memorial verses.

Let’s face it, almost anyone could do better than whoever wrote the above abomination.  I mean, the syntax of  “One who was better God never made” is so tortured it’s possibly in violation of the Geneva Convention.

Perhaps I could target sentimental agnostics and atheists who want their loved ones remembered, but less hyperbolically. 

Our mother has succumbed to a terminal disease,

A mother who taught us manners, to say “please”

And “thank you” and “may” instead of “can,”

Who raised us without the help of a man,

Our deadbeat dad who skipped town one night,

Forever disappearing in dishonorable flight.

Yet, Mom endured life’s hardships with stoic good grace,

An exemplary example for the human race.

Loved by her friends, her children, and pets,

We appreciate that she tried her very best.

Good night, deceased mother, may you rest in peace 

Safe in the cliché of death’s eternal sleep.

What do you think? Should I give it a try? Bill myself for the hours and then write it off my taxes? Anyway, if you’re in the market – fortune forbid – you know how to get in touch.


[1] This reminds me of a bit of dialogue from a WC Fields movie I ran across yesterday thanks to my pal Ballard Lesemann. A patron at a bar says to Fields, the bartender, “I understand you buried your wife a few years ago,” and Fields replies, “Yes, I had to. She was dead.”

[2] Unfortunately, I myself have become a somewhat prolific obituary writer, having composed posthumous bios for both my father and mother-in-law, my own parents, my maternal aunt and uncle, and for my beloved Judy Birdsong. The stylistic part is not easy. The memorialist needs to deftly insert introductory subordinate phrases and clauses to break the monotony of fact-filled declarative sentences.