A Few Life Lessons from the Dead

I wrote two obituaries for the Chilkat Valley News last week. Seamstress and homemaker Beverly Craig (70) died in Oregon, she and her husband Chauncey lived in Haines for many years before kidney failure meant she needed to move closer to a hospital back in 1992. Beverly had been challenged for a long time by her serious health issues, but remained cheerful and happy.  She also loved to fish, as one friend told me, "she was a fishing fool." The lesson (and I like to think there are lessons from every life that transcend the personal connections) from Beverly is summed up by another friend (and bridge player), Roger Schnabel. (Beverly's husband worked for Roger for years at his logging and road building company.) "Throughout the whole long process her spirit was always high, and her attitude good. She accepted the cards that were dealt her and played them to the hilt," Roger said. "When I called her it was never 'Oh, woe is me.' It was always 'Life is good.' You have to admire somebody like that." The other obituary was for fishing guide, hunter, trapper and good grandpa (his grandson is a friend of my son, that's how I know), Richard Hart (69) who had throat cancer and got so very thin near the end, but never did leave home for a hospital. He managed to get out and about even in his last week, before dying in his own bed.  One of Richard's last outings was the funeral for librarian Ellen Borders. Richard was a big library user. He liked Alaskan adventure books, mostly. "Anything to do with freezing and hanging off a mountain," his wife said. At Ellen's funeral (and this was not in the obituary) Richard re-connected with his childhood faith, his family had been part of the same non-denominational gospel based church as Ellen was,  and asked one of the pastors to visit with him. She came by a few times in his last weeks, his wife Mary Lou told me, and helped set his mind at peace. Another nice thing to remember about Richard, is that even though he was a charter fishing guide and it was his job to help clients catch fish, his wife said, "He used to say the most important thing is to bring home good memories." It's noteworthy that Beverly and Richard's obituaries shared the same paper. Not only were they both good people who liked to fish, about the same age, from similar backgrounds- hardworking folks who married young and traveled from the northwest up to Alaska during the logging years,-- they both faced mortality with optimism and left behind people who loved them dearly. In Marilyn Johnson's book about obituary writers, The Dead Beat, she ponders the coincidences of similar people sharing space on the obituary pages. Two medal of honor winners in the same week, a pair of actresses, former major league baseball players.  "It is more than a coincidence," she writes. "It's supernatural." 


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