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The obituary left me stunned.

Not for what it said, but for whose it was.

A dear friend passed away. How did I not hear about it?

There it was in The Cleveland Plain Dealer: Cozzens, Rev. Fr. Donald B. Cozzens, Ph.D. My husband saw it and circled it.

What a beautiful soul. Don was full of courage and compassion and reminded me often that no one is born broken; we spend our lives recovering the memory of our wholeness that was, and is, our birthright.

He had been a writer in residence and professor in religious studies at my alma mater, John Carroll University in University Heights, in Cleveland. He was a spiritual adviser to many, including me.

He was 82 and died Dec. 9 from complications of pneumonia from COVID-19.

He challenged the Catholic Church to change, both from the pulpit and with his pen, writing books like “The Changing Face of the Priesthood,” “Sacred Silence: Denial and the Crisis in the Church,” and “Faith That Dares to Speak.”

He also entertained and intrigued us with novels like, “The Cardinal’s Assassin.”

I wish the obituary said more.

We all know a good obituary isn’t about one’s death; it’s about one’s life. So what will yours say?

For the longest time, I spent my life building my resume. Those writing awards that once mattered so much to me are now in a landfill.

When we moved two years ago, I gathered them all, soaked them up one last time and said goodbye. I didn’t want my kids or grandkids fretting over what to do with them.

I want my life of loving them to matter to them, not my career.

I want my grandson to remember the day I was throwing him the football and his friend said, “Man, your gramma has an arm on her.” I do throw a wicked spiral and can kick that ball higher than his house.

I hope my granddaughter sews with her children the way we did last week, making pillows for all her fifth-grade teachers. She ran the sewing machine; I stuffed the pillows.

I want the youngest to pass along her love of board games and let her kids beat her, like I do pretty much every time we play, since she’s only 8.

I want them to remember me for saying yes to fun, to that epic snowball fight we had one night at 10 p.m. and for getting them a puppy they get to love and I get to walk and clean up after.

It’s not quite as bold a life as the one Renay Mandel Corren lived. Her obituary ran in the Fayetteville Observer on Dec. 15. It’ll knock your socks off.

Here’s part of what her son, Andy, wrote:

“A plus-sized Jewish lady redneck died in El Paso on Saturday. Of itself hardly news, or good news if you’re the type that subscribes to the notion that anybody not named you dying in El Paso, Texas is good news. In which case have I got news for you: the bawdy, fertile, redheaded matriarch of a sprawling Jewish-Mexican-Redneck American family has kicked it. This was not good news to Renay Mandel Corren’s many surviving children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, many of whom she even knew and, in her own way, loved.”

You had me at Jewish lady redneck.

“There will be much mourning in the many glamorous locales she went bankrupt in: McKeesport, PA, Renay’s birthplace and where she first fell in love with ham, and atheism; Fayetteville and Kill Devil Hills, NC, where Renay’s dreams, credit rating and marriage are all buried; and of course Miami, FL, where Renay’s parents, uncles, aunts, and eternal hopes of all Miami Dolphins fans everywhere, are all buried pretty deep. Renay was preceded in death by Don Shula.”

Renay, who was 84, was also “a disrespectful, trash-reading, talking and watching woman” and a “Yankee Florida liberal Jewish Tough Gal.”

It made me think of all the myriad ways we matter, even when we live messy lives. We don’t have to serve on a dozen boards or win any awards or donate millions to have a wing of a hospital named after us.

“Here’s what Renay was great at: dyeing her red roots, weekly manicures, dirty jokes, pier fishing, rolling joints and buying dirty magazines ... Hers was a bawdy, rowdy life lived large, broke and loud.”

As good as that sounds, don’t start living like Renay.

Start living like you, only more so.

Live the life you want to be remembered for, a life that makes you unforgettable.


Connect with Regina Brett on Facebook at ReginaBrettFans. Listen to “Little Detours” with Regina Brett at reginabrett.com or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.

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