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  • Danielle Hayden

Obituaries & Epitaphs

When I was a kid, sometimes I would read the obituaries in the Detroit Free Press at the dining room table. (Charming, right?). I know it sounds so macabre, but I was actually compelled by an interest in life, not death. I took to reading these summaries of people's existence, trying to picture things and infer things while feeling sad for those left behind to grieve.


I've thought a little bit about what my future obit might say (which may contrast with what I want it to say.) I wouldn't call myself a control freak, so I think this line of thinking has more to do with the importance I place on language—even in death—than some need to steer the narrative in a way that is favorable.


What I have thought more about is my epitaph. That of poet John Keats has an enviable final line:


Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water


I just think that's so beautiful every time I hear it.


And then I'm reminded of Kurt Vonnegut's 2003 essay, "Knowing What's Nice," which contained these words:


My epitaph, should I ever need one, God forbid: "The only proof he ever needed of the existence of God was music."


Vonnegut may not have been as poetic as Keats here, but what he wrote holds a special place in my heart as someone who loves music. It is hard to find people who dislike music, but I mean I really, really love music.


If I had to choose right now what my epitaph would say, it would be a line from the opera Tosca that I've been obsessed with since I first heard it:


Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore. [Translated from Italian: I lived for art, I lived for love.]


You would think that I, a woman so preoccupied with words would have more to offer than that as parting words. But that's really all there is. If I were able to say honestly that this was how I spent my time here (for art, and for love) then I would consider it a life worthwhile.




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