Foss: Learning from the obituaries


You can learn a lot from the obituaries. 

I started reading the obits in earnest a couple weeks ago because I was searching for people who had died of COVID-19 in Capital Region nursing homes. 

At first, I scanned the obits quickly for causes of death. 

But the more I read, the more absorbed I became. 

Soon I was captivated – not by how people died, but by how they lived, by their achievements and passions and deep roots in the community. 

Many of the people I’ve learned about were quite elderly, and their obituaries are an edifying window into a fading past. To immerse yourself in them is to gain a greater appreciation for the toil, sacrifices and joys of an older generation, for lives lived well and fully. 

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve read about war veterans and teachers, about glove makers, General Electric employees and volunteer firefighters. I’ve read about homemakers, musicians and poets, scientists and athletes. 

Every day, we lose talented and decent people – people who might not be famous, but who shared myriad gifts with us when they were alive. 

Take William Charles “Bill” Becker, a Rotterdam resident who died earlier this month at the age of 84. 

Becker was a mechanic, family man and “very proud” U.S. Army veteran who served from 1958 to 1964 in the First Cavalry Division. 

He was also, according to his obituary, a virtuoso saxophone player who performed with jazz greats such as Benny Goodman and Les Brown and His Band of Renown while stationed overseas. Becker continued playing music after returning to the U.S., most recently with the Esperance Town Band.  

Many of the obituaries I’ve read emphasize service – to one’s country, family, church and community. 

Sally A. Evans of Saratoga Springs “spent her life caring for others, beginning at the age of 12 when her Mother died; raising her children, taking care of her sick relatives, returning to school at age 41 to become an L.P.N., and in her later years taking care of her Husband,” according to her obituary. 

Evans, who was 79 when she died earlier this month, eventually entered geriatric nursing and worked at local nursing homes. 

“It suited her servant heart,” her obituary notes – a turn of phrase I found quite moving. 

One notable recent death is that of Lincoln Dietz, a Charlton resident who died at the age of 100 earlier this month. 

“With the onset of World War II, Lincoln proudly served his country in the U.S. Army (803rd Tank Destroyer Battalion), participating in the D-Day invasion of Normandy and traveling through Europe,” the obituary states. 

Dietz also enjoyed the outdoors. 

“From family camping trips to yardwork, watching Boston Red Sox or New England Patriot games to working in his vegetable garden, he cherished time in the sunshine,” the obituary observes. 

We should all try to cherish our time in the sunshine, just as Dietz did. 

Obituaries tell the stories of the men and women who helped build this country. 

They also provide examples of lives rich with meaning and purpose, and lessons on how to live well.

It’s been a privilege to read them, and I’ve learned a lot from doing so. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: News, Sara Foss

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