Inheriting Ma's job: Reading the obituaries

By Anthony Buccino

I picked up the habit of reading the obituaries when my mom was still alive. Working at a local paper, I'd spread the Ledger out on the floor and use my coupon clipper to snip the township write-ups.


For years I've been doing my mom's job. It paid the same for her as it does for me. Some times you find what you're looking for and that's when the disappointment starts.

Who knew reading the obituaries every day could be such a chore? One person lives to 107, another to 77.

A warehouse worker is my age.

As I scan three pages, I notice one resident is 43, another resident is 46. A teacher is 44, and a student is 16. Others fall into other eras.

I picked up the habit of reading the obituaries when my mom was still alive. Working at a local paper, I'd spread the Ledger out on the floor and use my coupon clipper to snip the township write-ups.

Over the years, I stumbled upon classmates who passed on, parents of classmates, neighbors and friends, too.

After returning from vacation, we could never recycle the paper until I had gone through the obits. A busy holiday weekend? The stack would sit until it was read.

My colleague at one weekly interpreted the funeral parlor-ese. Died at home and died at a hospital usually meant two different things. My colleague always spoke out at an obit for someone under 25, that one never got to know life.

In the scan I give each lifetime listed, I wonder what that life was like. Was it a good 107 years? You can fit a lot of living in 77 years, if you try.

At 43, 44 or 46, you might just have everything on track and your eyes on the prize. Maybe they had some rough patches, but things were looking up?

Life ending at 16 is barely a taste of its sweetness. Another brief candle out. The light that burns brightest burns quickest, but that's little solace to a family of broken hearts.

And what of the person who passed at my age? What have we seen or done? Have we made any difference at all on this spinning ball of space dust?

Maybe the answer is on the next page.


FIRST PUBLISHED August 15, 2008 on NJ.com

Copyright ©  2008 by Anthony Buccino, All Rights Reserved

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Anthony Buccino


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New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards. The Pushcart Prize-nominated writer has been called ' “New Jersey’s ‘Garrison Keillor” or something to that effect.’

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