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Image by Michael Held


with the martello journal

Who Reads Obituaries For Truth Anyway?

by p.w. brigdman

There’s a kind of risk/benefit analysis goes into it, this business of writing
one’s own obit. Can you see? It clearly won’t sit well with some.
But who can you really trust with the last word about you, but you? If making
some thin-skinned types cross must be the price, then pay it! Bang the drum.
Wax lyrical about what you want people to remember, with bits added in
that some may prefer to forget. Everyone rewrites history now. A little sin
in the mix lends verisimilitude, helps the false positives seem less like spin.
So, I told them: “Leave the obit with me. It can do double duty as the eulogy”.
One smirked, one stared at the wall. The third insincerely praised my ingenuity.

Who reads obituaries for truth, anyway? Like new wallpaper, these florid
encomia mostly obscure the true plaster-saint lives of their clay-footed subjects.
Occasionally, between the lines, one gleans that a departed one’s been horrid.
But truth-telling isn’t the obituarist’s remit: rather, it’s hagiography unchecked.
Before, I tended to read the obits at about 3:00 a.m. in the bog. I’d slink down,
fetch the paper from the step and shuffle in for my constitutional—like a clown,
a drowsy, stumbling, unfailingly regular noctambulant in his paisley nightgown.
Does my jaundiced view of obits come from reading them next to the bog-roll?
The atmosphere’s not solemn there; better suited perhaps to reading doggerel.

These awkward little gatherings at the foot of my bed are all that’s left us now.
The cancer’s invaded my spine. There’s no more folding me into a wheelchair
for dull little circuits round the hospital garden. No more pausing to note how
much or how little that feeble little clutch of withering daffodils near the stair
has grown. Easter’s in the air, aye, but God’s in a decidedly ugly humour.
The latest broadside from Pathology came on Easter Sunday! A new tumour
is now budding like a Christmas cactus at the base of my skull. A late bloomer.
The medics don’t use words like “toast”, at least not within a patient’s earshot.
But we all know I’m too burnt to scrape. Dear God, this disease is a juggernaut.

Time now to think. I know I haven’t always given them what they deserved.
That word “always”: I’ve removed and restored it ten times. I guess it stays,
but the hesitation is telling, no? The line tracking my car sales each year curved
ever upward. So many meetings that couldn’t be missed. So many birthdays
that could. Who else needs a mnemonic to recall when their kids were born?
Who but me? I owed them every kind of bounty but left them popping corn.
I can’t remember giving them baths, helping them with maths. Duty forsworn,
it was pretty comfy up on the pig’s back—swanning about, Platinum Club top
performer for 26 years running. Twenty-six! Only osteosarcoma made me stop.

Right. Well. I’m down from the pig’s back now. Flat on my back in a muck
of my own making (and raking). Time to atone is running out. They seem so
dutiful standing there—Polly, Ruth and little Jim—eking out only small talk,
monosyllables. All three smartly sporting my ginger hair, their mum’s dark sloe

eyes. And me, my thoughts lately wandering to laundering my reputation.
Imagine! It’s now so clear, pinned to this bed by disease and mortification.
I can see it. I can see that it is beginning again, even here—the subjugation
of every hard truth and every selfless instinct, all to serve the greater goal
of executing a posthumous deception, one final wobbling and pitiable capriole.

So I’ve stopped myself and given the job to Ruth,
    who promises to tell the truth.
The obit will do double duty as my eulogy.
    She may or may not be kind to me,
       but I’ve given her one reason
          to try to be.

P.W. Bridgman’s last day job before retirement was as a judge. His third and fourth books—
Idiolect (poetry) and The Four-Faced Liar (short fiction)—were published in 2021 by Ekstasis
Editions. His writing has appeared in, among others, The Moth Magazine, The Glasgow Review of Books, The Honest Ulsterman, The Galway Review, Litro UK, Litro NY, The High Window, The Maynard, The Antigonish Review and Grain.

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