Celebrating obituaries with style

Obituaries here in The Day got a lot less routine when the newspaper starting selling space for families to write their own.

One person who took particular delight in the changes that ensued is Nina Lentini, a newsletter editor and former journalist from Norwich, who is a devoted reader of obituaries, especially The Day's.

Some that have struck her as particularly memorable include this very frank one: "An intelligent, perceptive, artistic, and kind man, Peter nonetheless drank himself to death."

The obituary went on to list, among the survivors, "assorted drinking buddies who should consider Peter's death a glimpse into their own possible futures."

Honesty is often endearing in some of these free-wheeling obituaries.

In another, for example, the deceased is described as having a "real interest in and honest concern for people that made him many friends, despite his total lack of tact. He had a short fuse."

Sometimes, it is the routines and simple pleasures of people's lives, as they are described fondly by friends and family, that catch Lentini's attention.

They may be stories of ordinary lives, eloquently chronicled.

"She loved ironing, which she did almost daily, hanging clothes to dry on the line upon spring's arrival," describes one obituary of a stay-at-home mom. "She particularly relished working in her yard. In summer months, she could be spotted atop her riding mower, sun visor on her head, tending to her vast lawn."

Lentini says she sometimes feels sorry she will never have a chance to meet some of the people she's read about in their obituaries.

"Sometimes, I will think to myself, 'How charming, what a nice life this person had, how simple.'"

Lentini first began sharing her appreciation of these obituaries by sending lines from them around to friends. Then she started compiling them in a Word document and posted them on her Facebook page.

She was exploring the idea of writing a little book, a compilation, when a friend suggested a blog instead.

And last fall, Nina Lentini's Life Without End was born.

This sweet Web site, ninalentinislifewithoutend.blogspot.com, is a collection of the charming, clever and sometimes funny obituaries that have caught Lentini's' eye. She tries to post something every day.

Many are from The Day, but she has alerts on Google that help her mine interesting ones from other papers as well. Friends often submit suggestions, but those rarely have the quality she's looking for.

She's not so impressed with career achievements and the recitations of a successful life, the normal grist of elaborate obituaries.

"It's hard to describe the intangible quality I'm looking for," she said. "I guess I am looking for good descriptive writing."

Some that I see on Lentini's blog are just that, well written.

An example: "a Manhattan store owner who earned a national reputation by helping women find the right bra size, mostly through a discerning glance and never with a tape measure, died Thursday at Mount Sinai Medical Center. She was 95 and a 34B."

Some seem to celebrate the mundane.

"She was a member of the Ladies Auxiliary at the VFW in Jewett City. She loved to cook and also loved Tweety Bird."

Another: He died "after a long, happy life filled with family, hard work, corny jokes and lots of bowling."

Or this one: "And he never lost his appreciation for a pretty girl, a good boxing match or a plate of clams casino."

Lentini sometimes includes first person obituaries.

"Boy do I have a story to tell you," starts out one of these. "But don't weep for me for very long. I'm happy and busy and having new adventures on the other side of the veil. Never a dull moment!"

Another of these self-written obituaries on Lentini's blog is especially wry.

"I'm dead of lung cancer at age 69, after 34 years of not smoking, anything," the deceased wrote. "It's one of life's little editorial comments. What an eye-opener life turned out to be!"

I know what Lentini means when she says it might have been interesting to meet some of these people.

But I guess we can. Many of them are still here, all around us, future posts maybe, on Lentini's blog.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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