Obituary

On my nightstand is a laminated clipping of my father’s obituary from the local newspaper, printed just days after his death.

I have held onto this piece of plastic that encases this clipping since I was two years old.  The paper has yellowed over the past four decades, despite the plastic protection.  The words on the opposite side of the page have bled through, but the words that matter are still perfectly clear.

I have held it in my hands so many times that I know exactly how sharp the edges are, how smooth the plastic face is, and now, in my adult hands, it is four fingers across in width.

There were nights when I was particularly lonely and swept up in my loss, when I slept with it in my hands.  I would wake and feel it there and be reminded of the sadness and heartache I felt as I was falling to sleep.

The obituary says so much, yet it omits so much more.

My father’s obituary reads:

Funeral services will be held Saturday for Arnal D. Bray, 26, who died in a Waterville shooting incident Tuesday night.

It does not tell you he was shot twice by his best friend.

A native of Waterville, Bray was born March 19, 1947, the son of R. and L. Bray.

It does not tell you his parents were scarred, with wounds so deep they wore them on the outside for their entire lives.  These people who believed in the good of others, who were always the first to offer help to someone in need, were shown just how cruel the world could be.

He was graduated from Lawrence High School, Fairfield, in 1967.  He was a member of Fairfield Lodge, 100F, and of the Shawmut Chapel.

It does not point out that he was twenty when he graduated, proof of his rebellious nature.

A veteran of military service in Vietnam, Bray was employed at Scott Paper Co.

It does not tell you of all he saw in the war.  It does not tell you that he saw babies die.  Women.  Men.  Old. Young.  All dead.  All covered in flies. It does not tell you that he struggled to process all that he witnessed.

Survivors include his widow, Mrs. A. Bray of Fairfield; his parents, of Shawmut; one daughter, Nichole Bray, of Fairfield; two brothers, one sister … several aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins.

It does not tell you that the hole he left behind was so vast. That each of the people, even those who were lumped as nieces, aunts, cousins, felt his loss deeply.  They felt the reach of the frightening world. They realized that harrowing things didn’t happen only to strangers.  They didn’t happen just in the cities, they happened in their small town, to someone they knew, to someone they loved, to someone they laughed with.  The world became a far more serious and somber place.

Funeral services will be held Saturday at 1 p.m. at L Bros. Funeral Home, where friends may call today from 7 to 9 p.m. and Friday from 3 to 5 and 7 to 9 p.m.

It does not tell you the way my grandmother cried, the way her heart was more than broken…it was truly decimated.

It does not tell you how hard my grandfather tried to be strong for the family, his wife, his surviving children.

It does not tell you how my aunts and uncles did their best to support their parents, while they were falling apart inside at the sight of their parents’ devastation and heartbreak.

It does not tell you how another piece of my mother died.  It does not tell you I wasn’t there.  That my presence was never even up for discussion.

Bray.  Arnal D. — In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Shawmut Chapel.

This obituary does not tell you my father was magnetic, charming, funny, handsome, dynamic.  It does not tell you he would never be forgotten, never minimized, never truly gone.

I’ve often thought about the person who typed up my father’s obituary.  I’ve thought about him sitting at his typewriter, putting into words the most basic information.  The facts.  That’s what an obituary is.  Truly, just the most basic of facts.  There is no color, no emotion, no compassion.  Just dates, lists of family members, just facts.

The rest, well, the rest lies with those who have lost.


58 comments

  1. Jen wantapeanut.com

    Your father's presence is obviously still a strong one in your life, despite the little time that you had with him. Your words always amaze me. This is beautiful.

  2. kris

    Love to you, Nichole.

    "The rest lies with those who have lost."

    The rest, as you offer it here, is powerful indeed.

    The man is gone, but your words here? You ability to make us see this man who is gone?

    Babe, some of what lies with you?

    Some of the "rest" of which you speak?

    Is magical.

  3. @sogeshirts twitter.com/sogeshirts

    With these powerful words that you have written you have told the world so much about what a wonderful man your father was. What a truly eloquent tribute. I'm sure your father would be so proud of you. You are right that an obituary only tells the facts and leaves out so much of what we hold dear about people.

  4. SquashedMom

    Oh, Nichole, all my fine words fail me in the face of this, the depth of your sadness.

    All I can say: I am sorry, so, so sorry.

    And also: Beautiful writing. thank you for sharing this.

  5. That man who typed his obit, must have known you would do such an awesome job so many years later! I am sure your father is so very proud. And he lives on in you, and your children.
    I had a few more years with my dad, I was 10 when he died, and I will forever feel the scars of many that lost their parents at a young age too!

  6. Tonya lettersforlucas.blogspot.com/

    What a powerful and bittersweet post. I am so sorry that you lost your father and that the world didn't get to know him like you did. Hugs to you. xoxo

  7. I'm struggling for words because your post is so true, and so powerful. I absolutely love the way you weave past with present in your writing. After reading this, I feel like I knew your dad as well, and I'm feeling the loss of him, too.

  8. Lydia squidmom.com

    This sent shivers through me, absolute shivers. You have that gift, I wish all obituaries were like this post. They have always seemed empty to me. This was not at all like those, this was full of your father.

  9. Cheryl @ Mommypants mommypants.com

    The reading between the lines.

    The words on the page and the truth.

    The summing up of a life in a few lines, in black and white, written by a stranger.

    The rest only known by those who have lost.

    I am thankful you have the rest to fill in those spaces, to know something more than a slip of paper encased in plastic.

    Love you, you amazing woman

  10. Joan mommyinkwell.blogspot.com/

    You've done some wonderfully poignant writing here. Great job at peeling away the layers. I relate very strongly to your loss of your father. I was four when my father died (very different situations and did not get to say goodbye. But that's what this creative process has allowed me to do. I look forward to reading more. When you get a chance please visit me at http://mommyinkwell.blogspot.com/.

  11. Booyah's Momma chipandbobo.com

    Wow. Just wow.

    Honestly, I can't fathom what that must feel like. But after reading your posts, I always feel like I can… at least somewhat. The emotions & descriptions you write about are just poignant. Beautiful writing.

  12. So beautiful, and it makes my heart ache.

  13. Karen and Gerard zemeks.blogspot.com

    I am very sorry for your loss. You have written a wonderful tribute here to your dad though. This is just beautiful. I am going to submit it to Saturday Samplings this week over at Half Past Kissin' Time.

  14. Nancy C npoj.blogspot.com

    Yes. You have written his a piece of his story, and honored him with your life and your compassion. This is a reminder, yet again, of how violence changes lives so brutally. A reminder to show up and hold those who mourn.

    Gorgeous writing.

  15. Klz Www.taminginsanity.com

    This reminds me of Flanders field…

  16. @biggreenpen twitter.com/biggreenpen

    Nichole, thank you for sharing this. As a "southern girl" by birth, I was raised to always read the obituaries first. It is an odd habit that has had some interesting results (for a different time/blog/comment box). I, too, wonder about the people who prepare them, wonder what's between the lines, and get angry when something is misspelled – if it is going to be the last written homage to the individual, isn't it worth spelling everything right??!! I am sorry about your dad, and I clicked through to read about your encounter with the man who shot him. Your forgiveness speaks volumes. In my post, I mentioned a shooting here in our town – a 21 year old girl who was accidentally shot at a fraternity house by a guy showing off a gun. I think her family could use all of our prayers ……

  17. Alicia shakennotblurred.blogspot.com

    Crying….wiping tears from my eyes. What powerful post. I feel your emotion so raw and real. Life isn't fair. And not everything is black and white. Obituaries do not do one justice to all that they have learned and loved and lost through their life. I am so sorry for your loss Nichole. I couldn't even imagine…..

  18. Cate catelinden.com

    This post has really resonated with me this morning, having recently read the obituary of someone who hurt me beyond words. It did not tell the truth of who he was, or what he did. Just the "facts." Our situations are very different…yet I understand what you're saying completely. Thank you for this post.

  19. Diane bestillaminute.blogspot.com/

    Such a powerful post you have written here. I truly felt it. And so true about obituaries. After losing my first husband in an accident 7 years ago, I now can't read an obituary or hear about a tragic death in the news without thinking and wondering about the ones who loved that person because I know what they are most likely feeling.

  20. SugarMama

    Wonderfully written. So powerful for all of those that have endured the pain of losing someone. Thank you for sharing.

  21. C.Mom lacaramamma.com

    I have no words that could possibly describe the feeling that I just got by reading this. The power, the emotion. The love. Thank you for reminding us all that there is often so much more meaning in what is not said.

  22. Jaime ainsleylynn.blogspot.com

    I love how you put it all out there. Every raw emotion and detail. When I read some of your posts, I know it must have killed you to put it in to words. To allow everyone to see that vulnerability. To own up to the pain instead of pushing it down deep. This is why your readers love you. So, from one of your readers, thank you.

  23. amyr

    Thank you for the words between the lines.
    Hugs to you. It is hard when you lose a parent young. We miss out on so much. I lost my mom when I was 18, ready to go off to colege and lost my dad at 29. It just sucks sometimes.
    Hugs again

  24. naturegirl21

    Obituaries are supposed to be cold I think. Especially the ones in the paper. Could you imagine spilling all that to a lowly obit clerk at your paper? These words are the ones that belong at the service where the people who truly loved him and truly miss him will be.

    They are for posts like this so you can show your children someday.

    As always, beautiful Nichole

  25. Teresa redvelvetconfections.com

    Your words offer such a fresh perspective on the real legacy a lost loved one leaves. So happy to have visited today.

  26. What a beautiful and powerful post.

  27. Jhajer

    Beautiful and heart wrenching.

  28. How very sad. My father drowned when I was eighteen and the time that it hit me the most is when I had my first child, knowing that he would never know her.

  29. angel singedwingangel.blogspot.com

    I lost my father a few years ago and I as much older. The pain is still very real. An obituary can never do justice to the pain and loss of the people who knew them. But you just put is so beautifully.

  30. Natalie mommyofamonster.com

    Obits are so cold. I look at Jason's mom's and always think how she sounds just like any other person that died…not the amazing person she was and how many people mourned her loss (and still do). The pain of her never being able to meet our kids is a pain that I can't even describe (but you know what that feels like). Beautiful Nichole.

  31. No, darling woman, they cannot know any of those things. They can only know facts.

    If they tried to know all those things for every person they wrote about, they would collapse under the grief of it all.

    You are where his truth lives, not that piece of paper.

    And you tell his truth so beautifully.

  32. Dawn megwetch.blogspot.com

    Wow, I love the style you used to write this. Stopping by from Mama Kat's WW.

  33. I'm so sorry that this happened to you and your family. Thank you for sharing this beautifully written post.

  34. Thanks for sharing this. When we lose a loved one – it seems like it's so black & white for everyone else.

  35. the emotion behind this post is so heavy. i can almost see the scars on your heart. he sounds like a wonderful man, and i am thankful you write about him from time to time… he does live on through your words, so beautifully strung together.

  36. hisbell

    Ohh… i can just picture you laying in bed clutching onto this piece of plastic.

  37. Bruna beeswithhoney.com

    Aw, your post was so sad yet so touching. You write so well and so clearly. I felt for you within the first few moments of me beginning your post. I'm so sorry for your loss. I too, would have held on to that tiny piece of paper we call an obituary even though there is so much it does not say.

    *Hugs*

  38. andygirl

    you're such a beautiful writer. thanks so much for sharing. <3

  39. MommyLisa mommysnest.com

    Its something I cannot even imagine. I grew up with both of my parents and know that I will miss them so much when they are gone.

  40. This is so very beautifully written. I can't imagine that experience, your loss, your heartache.

  41. Mad Woman adiaryofamadwoman.com

    I think Cheryl said it best:
    I am thankful you have the rest to fill in those spaces, to know something more than a slip of paper encased in plastic.

    Thank you for honoring US with your words, you beautiful woman.

  42. This is so SO beautifully written. How such a small token of a memory can hold so much memories and emotions behind it. I am so sorry for the loss of your father in such a tragic way.

  43. Your writing is so poignant and powerful. I am so, so sorry for your loss and your scars and am always so touched by the beautiful life and incredible legacy you have built up from your pain.

  44. Alex@LateEnough lateenough.com

    Picturing how many times you held that paper makes my heart ache. What an extraordinary loss of an extraordinary man.

  45. jessb27

    This is beautifully, beautifully written. That man may have just written the words of your father's obituary but you painted the story of his life for so many and his memory shines through you each day. Wishing you the peace that I am sure you will always seek in living life with a father who was so unjustly taken from you.

  46. CDG

    As you so often do, you have, though your own pain and incredible grace, opened up a door in my soul.

    Your capacity for love, your generosity, your openness?

    Breathtaking.

    What a beautiful legacy for your father to have left.

  47. temysmom

    Life goes on but you never really get over a tragedy. It gets stirred up and haunts you when you least expect it to. Sometimes I'll find myself overcome with grief over my beloved Aunt who was killed when I was only 7. I'll cry and cry and wonder why I haven't gotten over it in 38 years. I have so many wonderful memories… at least we have those to hold tight to.

  48. Andrea

    The most powerful and moving post I have read (I just typed sad in error, which is really perfectly timed) in some time. I am so sorry for your loss. Tha you for sharing your father with me, with us, for just a little while.

  49. Sherri

    This is beautiful and painful, Nichole. I often wonder as I read these in the newspaper what's left out, what would people need to know to really know the true person who's gone now? Scarred…you certainly are. This tragic story has stuck with me ever since I heard it from you, my friend, and I love that you are using your writing to process someof it further.

    So much there between the lines….

  50. very beautifully written…as usual. :) I've had thoughts, when I've read obituaries, that they express such a small part of the story.

  51. Thank you for sharing this deeply personal piece of your life. I found great comfort in it thinking of my own father.

  52. The Princess Blogger

    Thank you for sharing a little piece of your heart with so many people. You write beautifully.

  53. katie sluiternation.com

    I can see the obituary in your hands. I often pour of obituaries of those I lost: my FIL, Cort's grandpa, my baby cousin. I search for things in them the way I imagine you searching.

    Love to you, my friend.

  54. susie newdaynewlesson.com

    You made me cry. Sending hugs and love. Beautiful piece of writing and beautiful tribute.

  55. Lisa

    So touching. I just read this for the first time today. You wrote this on my father's birthday. Actually, my step father's birthday. But he is really my father since my biological father walked away from our family. Just interesting how it was written on this day. Hugs to you my friend. Hugs

  56. Rusti mylifeasanofficerswife.com

    this takes my breath away Nichole, as it brings me to tears. *HUGS*

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