Some Christians stop eating meat. Some give up Facebook. Some read the Psalms. When I was a young minister in Indiana, I began reading the obituaries for Lent. The Paoli News-Republican came out on Tuesday and Friday. A normal edition included two or three obituaries that were written by the newspaper’s staff. No family was ever charged for an obituary.
The writers interviewed the deceased’s family, friends and ministers to help them express their gratitude for the person’s life. These tributes included sentiments like, “He never met a stranger” and “She laughed every day.” Reading the obituaries reminded me that people are often good and that I need to make my days count.
The obituaries in the New York Times are different from the ones in the Paoli News-Republican. The people in Paoli would balk at paying $263 for the first four lines and $52 per line thereafter with 28 characters per line. Most of the people in my old church would not be able to read the seven-point sans-serif font without a magnifying glass.
But it is Lent, so I sit down with my new hometown newspaper to look for what matters in the obituaries. Here is some of what I have found — still in alphabetical order:
- Lerone Bennett, Jr., 89, wrote Before the Mayflower in which he noted that the first blacks arrived in the colonies in 1619. He worked to prepare students to live in a multi-racial society.
- Allayne Berkrot, 88, was a dedicated elementary school teacher who loved children. She was a vivacious, passionate and caring person.
- Peggy Cafritz, 70, was a civil rights activist, arts patron and educator. She practiced a radical kind of love, fostering and mentoring countless young people, including one former gang member who needed $8,000 to pay her college tuition.
- Mary Dwyer, 94, fought a determined battle against bipolar disorder. While she was never able to conquer it, she never let it conquer her.
- Marilyn Henry, 89, was one of the first females to graduate from Chicago Medical School. During the 1960s she marched and sang on the front lines of the civil rights movement.
- George Kaufmann, 89, loved the closing lines of a song by his dear friend, Tony Bennett: “’Cause I must be leaving, it was fun. Now it’s done. So long big time. I gotta run.”
- Elizabeth Landauer, 80, served as a Girl Scout leader for many years.
- Ruth Meyers, 95, was a chemist who founded Women Strike for Peace.
- Marjorie Neikrug-Rasking, 103, passed away begrudgingly and peacefully. She was pre-deceased by five husbands.
- Patricia Rashkin, 74, chose a career as a guardian for those unable to fend for themselves, spending more than three decades with the City of New York’s protective services.
- Richard Rosenblatt, 91, was the author of On Borrowed Time, his memories of encounters with movie stars, moguls, scientists, generals, explorers, athletes, crooks and sociopaths.
- William Selden, 70, businessman, philanthropist, sportsman, dog-lover and innate comedian. He was a long-time supporter of the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind.
- Lilian Simon, 97, expressed herself through dance, collage, photography, antiques, fashion and food.
- Alan Lewis Stein, 88, founded the not-for-profit affordable housing entity, Bridge Housing. Bridge has participated in the development of more than 17,000 units of housing, providing homes for 42,500 people.
- Gertrude Steinburg, 98, was widowed at 53, so she went back to college. Upon graduation she faced age discrimination in the job market. Undaunted, she got a master’s in gerontology and worked for 30 years at NYU’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center.
- Daniel Sullivan, 90, traveled the world extensively visiting every continent except Antarctica. Peggy could not be persuaded to travel there as she preferred Tahiti.
- Constance Sultan, 84, worked for 30 years at Mount Sinai Hospital, where she was the charge nurse in the baby nursery.
Reading the obituaries sounds gloomy, but that has not been my experience. I am happy to be reminded that people are often good. Being encouraged to make my days count feels like preparing for Easter.