What’s in a Picture?

Every week I receive the death notices and obituaries from area mortuaries for those who have passed away. Sometimes these people were living away with children or were in a care facility, but most of the time they have lived their last days right here where they spent so much of their life.

Regardless of how busy I am, I always open the pictures that accompany the obituary to see if I can recognize the face and make a connection to the name. What I truly cherish are the pictures that come in representing the recently departed as a young person as well as one representing them in the sunset of their life.

Many times the young picture is one that was taken as they were on their way to war. These are particularly special in my mind because they represent a specific time in their life when their future was uncertain. Though these photos are many decades old, the quality of the pose and the crispness of the uniform are particularly polished and represent the person at the prime of their life.

Many of these pictures were touched up as was the practice at the time, but they don’t look overdone. I love the fact that the subject is always smiling even though their destination was likely a warship on hostile seas or a battlefield in a foreign land.

How I wish that each young person today could have a photograph representing them at an important crossroads of their life. We have the senior pictures that are taken at the beginning of our senior year of high school, but I don’t think these pictures carry the same reverence as the service pictures our parents and grandparents took.

If there isn’t a service picture there is quite often one that was taken as the individual is off to college or maybe even when they are off to participate in the workforce. But in order to use any of these pictures it is important to have the original or a good copy set aside so when the day of their passing comes it is accessible and easy to provide to the mortuary.

When my own mother was in her late 60’s she made an appointment with our local community photographer, put on her Sunday best and went to take a dignified obituary picture. Though it was taken 21 years before her death, this picture was one that each of us children received a copy of and displayed in our homes as a reminder of our mother. Upon her death it was simple to lay our hands on the photograph we used in her obituary. This last reminder is an important tribute for us and our parents, friends and acquaintances.

There are times when circumstances don’t allow for a pre-planned photo to be used in an obituary. Whether the result of a sudden accident or simply the inability of loved ones to find a recent photo in time to be used for an obituary, there are times when the final remembrance of a loved one or cherished neighbor just isn’t as good as we had hoped for.

Occasionally the picture we get is from a fishing trip twenty years prior, but it is an important and necessary reminder of a life past. If fishing was your thing you might want your last picture to be of that memorable fishing trip to Alaska, but whatever your want, make sure you let your wishes known to those who will put it all together.

This past week I opened an obituary picture and saw a familiar face. Ironically, I didn’t recognize the name or anything else about the deceased, just the unique smile that I found looking back at me. It helped me frame my memory of the person even though it had been years since I had seen her in the flesh. It brought a smile to my face and resulted in this column as a topic of discussion.

I encourage all of you reading this column to put some thought into what you would like people to see and remember you by when your train to the next station comes in. Make the preparations now when you are able, taking the burden away from your loved ones who will be dealing with many difficult decisions upon your death.

Additionally, as long as you are thinking about the end, take the time to go see your family mortuary to make your final arrangements ahead of time. If you are in a position to fund your final expenses now it would be a great relief to your children to do so. If not, feel free to leave it for them to figure out. The Mini-Cassia area is blessed with a number of credible funeral homes who can help you through the process. There isn’t a one that I wouldn’t trust to do the job for me or my family. The prices can vary, however, so it won’t hurt to check around.

I have already spoken to my family undertaker who has assured me that my wish to have a twelve pack of Mountain Dew at the foot of my casket will be honored. I’m likely to be thirsty by the time my turn at the resurrection comes around so it’s best to plan ahead.

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