I spent a lot of time with my mother when I would go to Chicago on business. After she retired, she would still get up and have coffee with me before I left for work, and we would read the Chicago Tribune. I was most interested in the sports and some of the front section, while she would immediately turn to what we liked to call “the Irish sport pages,” i.e. the death notices. If a person was relatively famous (the owner of a business, an executive at one of the major employers, a member of the clergy, etc.) they would get an obituary, which would recount some of the highlights of the person’s life, charitable organizations the person worked for, as well as surviving family members and arrangements for the wake, funeral, and burial. If they weren’t, they just got a simple death notice, stating when and where they died, listing the person’s surviving relatives, and the funeral arrangements.
Some people don’t like to have obituaries and death notices published. There are people who read the obituaries and death notices with an eye toward visiting the home when they know no one will be there and burgling the place while the occupants are busy burying their dead. I think there’s a special circle in hell for people who do that.
Mom started reading the death notices after Dad died. A few months after he died, his Aunt Genevieve died. She had never married, so she was also Genevieve Holton. Mom was at work, sitting in the teachers’ lounge at break time, reading the death notices, and came across Aunt Genevieve’s. She announced to all there, “well, I guess I can go home, I just found my death notice.” Her fellow teachers didn’t find it as funny as she did.
I think that’s why people read the death notices: to see if anyone they know has died, and to make sure they aren’t there.