Tuesday, October 28, 2014

James Rebhorn: Signing off in style

A vital but often underestimated precursor to the funeral is the obituary. It appears in the newspaper, provides salient facts including the place and time of the funeral (or memorial service) itself, and in general serves as an announcement that one who has lately been among us, is no more.

Once taken so seriously that it tended to be a lengthy, formal (if often floridly-written) affair, the pro forma piece of writing upon which fledgling journalists typically cut their teeth has sunk, in recent years, into a muddle of execrable spelling, grammar, syntax, and content.

Among the annoying aspects of the modern-day badly-composed, often-inane obit is the overwhelming need (or so it would seem) for the writer to characterize the deceased as simultaneously (and from birth) beautiful, intelligent, kind, generous, scrupulous, philanthropic, altruistic, and compassionate. No less (if no more) than God's gift to humanity.

One with the ability to walk on water, grow a perfect garden, keep an inviting home, and cook a succulent five-course meal while maintaining a splendid sense of humor, optimistic outlook, and wholly unselfish motives. Always paying it forward, asking for nothing in return.

One who never met a stranger and from whom words of wisdom sprang like a freshet no matter what the circumstances. One who from the day they were born wanted nothing so much as to serve others regardless of race, creed, or differing views, resolve all conflict globally, mediate every dispute, and eventually bring about world peace.

In fact, so pronounced is the tendency to hose the obit down in treacle, that when folks stray off that sentiment-laden reservation and say what's really on their minds about a dead person, it makes the news.

For example:

Marianne Theresa Johnson-Reddick born January 4, 1935 and died alone on August 30, 2013. She is survived by six of her eight children whom she spent her lifetime torturing in every way possible. While she neglected and abused her small children, she refused to allow anyone else to care or show compassion towards them. When they became adults she stalked and tortured anyone they dared to love. Everyone she met, adult or child, was tortured by her cruelty and exposure to violence, criminal activity, vulgarity, and hatred of the gentle or kind human spirit.

On behalf of her children whom she so abrasively exposed to her evil and violent life, we celebrate her passing from this earth and hope she lives in the afterlife reliving each gesture of violence, cruelty, and shame that she delivered on her children. Her surviving children will now live the rest of their lives with the peace of knowing their nightmare finally has some form of closure.

Most of us have found peace in helping those who have been exposed to child abuse and hope this message of her final passing can revive our message that abusing children is unforgivable, shameless, and should not be tolerated in a "humane society." Our greatest wish now is to stimulate a national movement that mandates a purposeful and dedicated war against child abuse in the United States of America.

Ah. A fine goal, to be sure. Suffice it to say that even if Mrs. Johnson-Reddick's aggrieved offspring do not succeed in abolishing child abuse, at least they realized the rare accomplishment of producing a non-sugarcoated obituary. And how.

Enter a refreshing alternative, at least in the case of one James Rebhorn: the self-obituary.

Sort of like the death selfie, if you will -- only in words, not pictures.

Mr. Rebhorn, a character actor whose face you will no doubt recognize even if you may not be able to recall exactly what he played in, died on March 21, 2014, at the age of 65. It was melanoma that got him. 

Anticipating his demise, Mr. Rebhorn left words to be published as his obituary. And they are worth reading.

After I reproduce them here, I believe I will scratch out a rough draft of my own obituary.

Or at least put it on my To-Do List.

James Robert Rebhorn was born on September 1, 1948, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His mother, Ardell Frances Rebhorn, nee Hoch, loved him very much and supported all his dreams. She taught him the value of good manners and courtesy, and that hospitality is no small thing. His father, James Harry Rebhorn, was no less devoted to him. From him, Jim learned that there is no excuse for poor craftsmanship. A job well done rarely takes more or less time than a job poorly done. They gave him his faith and wisely encouraged him to stay in touch with God.

He is survived by his sister, Janice Barbara Galbraith, of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. She was his friend, his confidant, and, more often than either of them would like to admit, his bridge over troubled waters. He is also survived by his wife, Rebecca Fulton Linn, and his two daughters, Emma Rebecca Rebhorn and Hannah Linn Rebhorn. They anchored his life and gave him the freedom to live it. Without them, always at the center of his being, his life would have been little more than a vapor. Rebecca loved him with all his flaws, and in her the concept of ceaseless love could find no better example.

His children made him immensely proud. Their dedication to improving our species and making the world a better place gave him hope for the future. They deal with grief differently, and they should each manage it as they see fit. He hopes, however, that they will grieve his passing only as long as necessary. They have much good work to do, and they should get busy doing it. Time is flying by. His son-in-law, Ben, also survives him. Jim loved Ben, who was as a son to Jim, especially through these last months. His aunts Jean, Dorothy and Florence, numerous cousins and their families, and many devoted friends also survive Jim. He loved them all, and he knows they loved him.

Jim received his BA at Wittenberg University and his MFA at Columbia. He was a member of Lambda Chi Alpha Nu Zeta 624, a life-long Lutheran, and a longtime member of both the AMC and ACLU.

Jim was fortunate enough to earn his living doing what he loved. He was a professional actor. His unions were always there for him, and he will remain forever grateful for the benefits he gained as a result of the union struggle. Without his exceptional teachers and the representation of the best agents in the business, he wouldn't have had much of a career. He was a lucky man in every way.

Well done,  Mr. Rebhorn -- at least, as far as writing your own obituary goes. We may not have agreed on everything, but I admire your humility and eloquence in the face of your own impending exit. Whatever else your life did or did not entail, in that one thing you managed to be an example to us all.

Rest in peace.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A shot in the light

There are essential shots to be taken at any funeral.

And as with any endeavor, they must be well thought-out shots.

It does not pay to aim one's camera willy-nilly at a funeral.

Think about what you want beforehand.

Write it all down if you're afraid you'll forget something.

You won't get another chance. This is it.


An oblique view of the hearse is a favorite of mine.

Flattering pictures of loved ones or major players are essential.


The pretty flowers will fade away but well-composed photos of them will not.


And don't forget any signage featuring the name.

It is oddly poignant and sobering.


Angel Funeral Photography :: Discreetly Breathtaking


Saturday, March 29, 2014

How the heartrending can hearten

A funeral is never easy. It's that potentially stifling moment in time when one is caught in a net that's one part necessity and nine parts resistance.

The bald inescapable truth is that one day that will be you they're coming to mourn. You they're coming to bury.

If you're seeing beloved family members for the first time in a long time, or even if you just had coffee with them last week, there are smiles through the tears.


After all, life -- even when it's long -- is short, and these are our human touchstones, and opportunities to be together are at a premium. Numbered, as it were, like our days.

Some may themselves be not long for this world.

Out at the cemetery there are awkward moments when the weight of the actual burden is as much metaphysical as it is metaphorical.


There are smiles of relief that the hard part is nearly over. Perhaps a time of relaxation, fellowship, and good food is to follow.

These are things we comprehend more readily than the concept of death.

Besides, grief makes us hungry. We are after all still kicking, and we require nourishment.

But first there are last moments, lingerings, reluctant leave-takings to be got through.


There is the uneasy feeling that we are abandoning the person whose life and existence we came to remember, to honor, and to celebrate.

Sometimes a face, an expression, a freight of emotion, captures us as it leaks through the facade created by so much formality.


A man stands bereft and uncertain beside the casket of his mother. A child's eyes are too large in its pale face. A mother's voice trembles as she bears the unbearable.

Then there are the long looks back as we gain the perspective of distance, our footsteps leaving no trace of us on the trackless manicured grass.

We go our way before the hole is filled, before the dirt is tossed back. We don't see that part but still, if hearts could tremble, ours would.


On a bright day our eyes water; on a gray day they mist. We aren't sure what is tears and what is dew and what is dust.

All we know is that there are closings afoot. Closed. The subject is closed.

We will move on, wake to new days, marvel anew at life's joys and vagaries. But even at the funeral, if we tune in, we may be heartened by the heartrending.

Because if only for this day, we are alive. And with life comes hope, and with hope comes opportunity, and with opportunities come lovely and often unexpected results.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Even we, even so


Photo by Jennifer Weber
Riverside Cemetery ~ Asheville, North Carolina