April 15, 2019 Brigitte Ganger

Meeting the Dead in the Obituaries

The best obituaries introduce us to people we wish we'd known

Meeting the Dead in the Obituaries
When you read an obituary that touches your heart, it's hard not to wish you'd had a chance to meet the person who lived such an incredible life. (Getty Images)

Reading the day's obituaries is often an eerie experience, even for those who read them daily. The stories of the dead offer an insight into the world, what we value and the fragility of life. But a really good obituary will introduce you to someone you wish you'd had a chance to meet in life. The sad irony, of course, is that by virtue of meeting in the obituaries, you will never meet in person.


Stories about the lives of famous people like Karl Lagerfeld, Luke Perry and Nipsey Hussle get a lot of attention in the obituaries, but it's also important to read about ordinary people who changed the world. Despite not having achieved fame and fortune, these folks made a difference in their communities—and were remembered for their contributions to society after they passed away. 


Victoria Ruvolo


Victoria Ruvolo was headed back from her niece's singing recital on November 13, 2004, when her life changed forever in an instant. In a prank that went horribly wrong, eighteen-year-old Ryan Cushing threw a frozen turkey through the open window of her car, hitting her directly in the face.


The harmful prank left Ruvolo with crushed bones in her cheeks, jaw and eye socket, as well as brain and esophagus trauma. Doctors said it was a miracle she survived the accident. Ruvolo needed intensive facial reconstructive surgery, as well as cognitive and physical therapy, in order to recover from her injuries.


Instead of seeking revenge for the random act of violence, Victoria Ruvolo urged prosecutors against a harsh sentence. Cushing was facing up to 25 years in prison, but she effectively argued that a severe sentence would serve no rehabilitation for the young man, and "only turn him into a hardened criminal." He received six months of jail time and 5 years' probation because of her radical forgiveness.


She passed away on March 25, 2019. It's not known whether her death was related to her injuries from the attack. Victoria Ruvolo's story created a lot of buzz, not only because of the unusual attack she suffered, but also her unusual response to the cards she was dealt in life. 


Herb Teichman


Herb Teichman's death might have gone largely unnoticed except for in his small Michigan community, if it weren't for the obituary writers that immortalized his story. 


Herb owned the Tree-Medez Fruit Farm, which is close to Eau Clair, and took a lot of pride in his work. He spruced up the orchard and surrounding areas by keeping pristine care of the landscaping, adding seating for guests and ensuring the overall experience of visiting his farm was enjoyable. 


Searching for "something to do" with the cherry pits of his harvest, Herb founded the International Cherry Pit Spitting Championship in 1974. What started off small quickly grew to become an annual community event. This competition is recognized by the Guiness Book of World Records, with the record currently standing at 30.6 meters. 


Now 45 years old, the next Cherry Pit Spitting Championship will be held on July 6, 2019. And it's all because of Herb Teichman, a fruit farmer who had a vision for his community.


Suman Virk


When Suman Virk's teen daughter, Reena, was murdered by bullies in November of 1997, she made it her life goal to prevent similar tragedies. Reena's death provoked a national outpouring of grief in Canada, and finally shed light on the issue of teenage bullying. 


At her time of grief, she decided to step up and use her experience to pioneer education and advocacy programs to deal with bullying. Prior to the death of her daughter, she'd lived a normal life with her family. Forced by grief and circumstance to turn her pain into a brighter future, Suman Virk turned the conversation in schools toward ending violence and bullying.


Her ability to forgive past mistakes and use them as a way to better her community was commemorated in 2009, when she and her husband were awarded the Anthony J. Hulme Award of Distinction for contributions to public safety. 


Many are familiar with the tragic side of Reena Virk's story, but were unaware of goodness that was able to rise from it, until Suman's death in June of 2018. Her obituary acquainted many with Suman, who has been called the pioneer of the anti-bullying movement in Canada. Her obituary was a final summary of a life of serving the public through advocacy, and was just one of many stories that touched hearts around the globe in the last year. 


Every dash is a story


These are just three of thousands of incredible stories that have been published in the past year.


Over 100,000 people die each day, and every one of those people leave behind a life story. Telling stories is how humans accumulated knowledge across generations, and life storytelling continues to teach lessons in living well. While every person's story is special, there is the occasional obituary that  evokes an odd sense of yearning: to meet. 


If any of these stories have given you reason to pause and think about life, remember that obituaries like this are published every day. You can honor the dead by reading about their lives, and learning from them. 


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