I picked up a local newspaper the other day — I seldom do — and my eye fell on the obituary page, where pathos emboldens survivors of loved ones to make public their most private sentiments. I have never understood why a notice bought from a newspaper and for the consumption of unknown and unworthy eyes should bring solace to the survivors. Remembrance is a strong emotion and worthy, but dissipated and scattered by publicity.
I read a poignant item that reported the departed one as having no survivors or kin but many friends. The item went on to enumerate them, some twenty in number, faceless names further effacing the departed one.
This whole business reminded me of Seneca’s little essay, “On Old Age,” wherein he breates a servant for the sad condition of a certain tree but is told to his chagrin that the tree is very well cared for but very old.
At any time, on any day, we have potentially reached the end of our course, says Seneca, and if God adds the morrow, well, then, we shall accept it gladly, enjoying a windfall. But instead of an obituary notice, the solitary ought to consider the resolution of Alexander Pope’s concluding lines on publicity in his inestimable poem, “Ode to Solitude”:
Thus let me live, unheard, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.