Do you read the obits in the paper every day? I do — and not just to see who I’ve outlived by twenty-four hours.
I read them because … well, because you just never know.
Obituaries are inherently fascinating info-nuggets when you think about it.
An obituary is a soul’s farewell note to everybody and everything he or she has ever known.
It’s accompanied usually by a photo of the deceased — a photo which the deceased probably didn’t choose and wouldn’t have approved of.
You’d think it would be a cultural tradition to spend a great deal of time and thought composing one’s personal obituary, but in fact very few of us ever write our own.
We’re too busy or we’re uncomfortable with the morbidity of the idea — or perhaps we secretly believe that we’ll never die.
When we do shove off, the job of penning that farewell note falls to a mate, or next of kin. Or worse of all, to some anonymous cub reporter whose duties include the Joe job of spinning a few coherent lines about the stiff under the sheet in the morgue.
Still, newspaper obituaries can be utterly charming in their artlessness.
Often they’re trite; occasionally they’re sublime and every once in a while they can evoke a distinct thrumming pang in the cardiac region of the thoracic cavity.
Which brings us to Buncy Johl.
Odd name, that. East Indian, I’m guessing, since the newspaper tells me his second name is Singh.
The photo that accompanied his obituary in the newspaper last week shows a pleasant-looking, middle-aged man, balding, with an easy smile, wearing what looks like a track suit.
And right under the photo, about four and a half inches of 10-point agate type summing up Buncy’s 50 years on the planet.
About an inch and a half into the obit you learn that Buncy was, among other things, a musician.
He played in the B.C. rock band Soul Addiction. I’m guessing that he and the boys spent more than a little time entertaining at the Strathcona Hotel because the obit salutes the hotel owner and “the Strathcona family” for special thanks.
I’m also guessing that Buncy’s final number was not an easy listening tune because his death notice especially praises the staff at the Intensive Care Unit at Royal Jubilee Hospital.
What struck me was the way the obituary unconsciously reflects the giant cultural tossed salad that is Canada.
It mentions Buncy’s parents, aunts and uncles, most with Asian names like Gurmit and Ajit and Joginder — but also a sister Rita, nieces Erin and Robyn and brother-in-law Wayne — names that could have come straight from a three-storey mansion in Forest Hill or a clapboard farmhouse near Primrose, Alberta.
If Buncy’s forebears hadn’t emigrated to Canada a couple of generations ago, his smiling face would probably never have appeared in a Canadian newspaper and you and I would almost certainly never have heard of him. But his forebears did come here. And became Canadians. And cross-pollinated with the rest of us mongrels. And gave us Buncy.
He touched a lot of people, this Buncy Singh Johl. In fact, the obituary says “There was no one who crossed Buncy’s path and was not touched by his magnetic personality, unwitting smile, and loving, compassionate and forgivable nature.”
And that includes Brad, the hospital parking attendant who is thanked in the obituary for his loving support.
Curious, how much you can infer from simple newspaper death notices.
They’d never qualify as ‘light’ reading, even when the subject is a warm and lovely guy like Buncy. But they can be illuminating. Even, on very rare occasions, funny.
When a newspaper to which Rudyard Kipling subscribed mistakenly published an announcement of the writer’s death, Kipling (who was also born in India) dashed off a note to the editor.
It said: “I just read that I am dead. Don’t forget to delete me from your list of subscribers.”
Buncy would have loved that.