After retiring from UP over 10 years ago, reading obituaries has become a daily habit. When I come across a death notice on somebody who died at 50 or 60, I am thankful to be healthy at 70 and, mind you, with my hair still mostly black. Obituaries of people who die at the age of 80 or 90 make me wish I would live as long.
My interest in obituaries led me to conduct a survey of the death notices published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer from March to December in 2004. The survey covered 1,075 death notices, 620 of which were for men and 455, for women. Though not based on random sampling, the “survey” came up with some interesting findings.
On the average, men died much younger than women—71 against 78 years old. In 230, or 21 percent, of the obituaries, the profession of the deceased was shown. Nuns had the longest lifespan, averaging 85 years. The priests came next with an average of 80 years, followed by the medical doctors with 75 years, the military officers with 73, lawyers with 72, and engineers with 70.
Doctors, who are supposed to have studied the human body, die younger than priests by an average of five years. The 67 doctors in the obituaries even included women who, on the average, live longer than men.
Our obituaries, unlike in other countries, greatly vary in size, suggesting social status (117 were large: one-fourth page and bigger; and 319 were small: the size of a calling card). The average age of the dead in the large obituaries was 75; in the small ones, 72.
Many death notices and those who announce the death anniversaries of their loved ones request readers to pray for the eternal repose of the souls of the departed, never mind if they have been dead for years. I wonder how many readers heed their call for prayers. And I doubt if one could appeal the fate of a soul denied of eternal rest on Judgment Day.
I think we should have valid reasons for doing things, if we are to move forward. Common practice and tradition are reasons hardly good enough to justify our actions.
Excerpted from “Highblood: Obituaries and reasons”
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 9 January 2005