Day of No Dead (Complete)

Day of No Dead 

By Tina V. Cabrera

 Imagine driving freeway 5. You’re on your way from San Diego to Los Angeles, and about an hour in, you don’t spot them – those buildings in the shape of a woman’s breasts. Without this landmark, you may lose your bearings and begin doubting that you’re on the right path. You may even turn back.

The Obits come right before Editorial & Opinion. You know this because you read the paper every day. Today, you flip through the pages like you always do, but by the time you get to U.S. Politics, you’re gravely aware that something is missing. You turn back – to where the obits are supposed to be – and they are simply not there. 

You look for signs of mischief. Perhaps the deliveryman wanted them for himself.  But there are no rips or tears. Then you check to see if the obits have been placed elsewhere in the dailies, perhaps accidentally. They are nowhere to be found – not clumsily placed in with sports. Not confused with the comics.

You toss the paper on the floor and search the online version just to see if the same error (assuming this exclusion was indeed an error) has been made. First, you click on “Obituaries,” and then on “Today” where you’re given an alphabetical list by last names. No A’s, no B’s, nothing through to F, all the way to Z. Click on “View All Obituaries.” Nothing. So then you click on “Yesterday.”  Thirty deaths reported, 5 names starting with B, only one T…

What gives? What’s with Today? Could it be there have been no deaths to report, let alone speak of? You click on an obit from Yesterday and this is what appears: 

JOHNSON, JOHN G. Born July 1, 1952. Died May 1, 2003. John wrote books. He died.

You click on another out of pure curiosity:

VARGAS, ANTONIO 2/25/60 – 4/13/03 American Cremation.

These are only two of the many listed under Yesterday, but none under Today.

You need more. You need them.

You do the next logical thing and call the local paper to ask them for an explanation.

The person who answers, speaks in a dead monotone: Oh, this sort of thing happens on occasion.


Yes really.

Well I’ve never seen it happen before. There’s always an obit section in the daily paper for as long as I can remember, and believe me I remember everything. Can you tell me the last time this actually happened?

Not really.

Really? Can’t you check your records and see?

If you call back next week, I might have a better answer. Maybe between now and then it’ll happen again.

Of course you search the paper the next day, and there you find the good ole’ Obits, right back where they belong. You are so pleased you read some online. You feel like you’ve been reading obituaries your whole life. You decide to read every single one in the daily paper now. You decide to read with purpose.

You read with care and begin to recognize a pattern that either you didn’t notice before or that you subconsciously ignored. Here is the basic format that comes to the fore: Name, date of birth, family background, youth, marriages, life passions, education, achievements and awards. This seemingly simple structure leads you to deeper ruminations.

Cause of death. Why do some state it, while others don’t? Usually, those that don’t are write-ups of individuals who died at a ‘natural’ age, say anywhere from 70 to 80. The cause of death, therefore, should be obvious.

Those that do state the cause of death often do so like this:

Betty died peacefully in her sleep.

Ever struggle in the grips of a nightmare that’s anything but peaceful?

Missing from Betty’s brief obituary:

Betty died some time during the hours of sleep. We know this because it was determined by the coroner’s office. We aren’t certain whether she struggled against death in the last moments because – well – we weren’t there. She overdosed on prescribed medications of all kinds. Accidental or purposeful suicide? The point is moot. What matters is that Betty was alive and now she is dead. We will never know whether she died ‘peacefully’ or fought bravely, or something or nothing in between.

You may say obituaries don’t have to focus on a person’s actual death or its causes.

Celebrate life.

Dave has been survived by his faithful wife of 30 years and a grandson and one niece.

Translation: Life is survival. If you stay married for 30 years, whether those years were happy or productive or rewarding or miserable or painful or the worst 30 years of your life – you are faithful. Dave and his wife spawned one grandson in those 30 years of marriage. One niece.

Another: Liz was preceded in death by her father and mother and eldest brother.

Nothing but the facts.

You read on. You read the locals who are dubbed famous and so take up almost the entire page, squeezing into tiny print the John Gs and Anthony’s. Unfair, you decide, considering that each and every dead person – anonymous or famous – takes up basically the same amount of earth space.  

Smith, George, Professor whose research in particle physics played a vital role in the first space shuttle design. Included are all the little details that emphasize the importance of Professor Smith’s specific contributions to the scientific community, leaving nothing to the imagination. And so, George’s legacy is consigned to Lauded Professor of Physics in almost 100 lines.

John G. wrote books. He died.

Had the Lauded Professor been summarized: Smith, George Professor of Physics. Contributed his part to the whole of the scientific community, how many more one or two-liners could have been made to fit?

MARCUS, LEANN Lived a full life, demonstrated by her loyal dedication for 30 years to the firm.

LIZARRO, CASS Loved her family, loved the Lord.

FRANCO, JULIAN Predeceased by wife and now they are together in heaven.

KOVAN, GER Mother of 2, Friend of Dozens.

DURAN, DINA Chef extraordinaire, devoted godmother of Lizzy, loving cousin to Fred, Robin and Chance.

You read so many obituaries, but there are only a few you remember like lines of poetry:

RHYDE, RONALD Left us on July 11 at 0815. Passed away in the company of a visiting troop of showgirls.

LIN, LEE Born in Los Angeles, California, the land of opportunity. Died somewhere else.

Others, you cut out and display on the refrigerator because they are like those magnets that say how you feel today:

ALVAREZ, EDWARD Surgeon at Sharp Medical for 40 years. Died two years after retirement.

SOMMERS, BARB Experimented with new forms of plastic surgery. Luckily, died before every needing any.

CALLIS, DIMITRI Wrote Y.A. novels. Married 20 years. Left behind a wife but no children.

BACKER, BECKA Author of children’s books. Died without ever having them.

PARKS, NATHAN Mazatlan Mortuary, (740) 221-3318.

TATE, RONALD FAYE 01/24/36 – 10/7/2015 Preferred Cremation & Burial.

VALANZUELA, MANUEL “MANNY” ZEPEDA Preferred to dig his own grave.

There are those that remind you of friends of your own, now deceased, unexpectedly:

Larry would never forgive us for a sad story, so in honor of his life, we raise our glasses of Vodka and tonic and say, “Here’s to you, dear Larry! We love and miss you terribly.”

Larry probably strolled this very same aisle in the grocery store that you stroll today: shelf upon shelf of liquor. Larry’s friends had to choose something. They chose to toast his taste in drinks and happy songs.

You still have a choice – London Dry or Dutch Gin. Two for one, top shelf, or sales bin.

Months pass and you haven’t called the paper back. When you finally do, what will their story be? Was that day simply an oversight? Or were there other days just like it? 

You’re not worried. There’s plenty to read already.




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