The idea of loved ones passing is hard to comprehend, and their obituaries go widely unread due to the gravity of cover stories and breaking news. However, in the lines and phrases that define the highlights of an individual’s life, Heather Lende found insightful truths. She proved that it is not only in the stories told, but the moments leading to the final chapter of an individual’s life that often have the most impact.
In a quirky compilation of stories with life lessons at each end, Heather Lende provides advice in her novel, Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer. Her style is conversational in nature, inviting the reader into her world, but still providing a sense of wonder, as if sitting down with a familiar friend, and learning something entirely new.
Heather Lende is an obituary writer in Haines, Alaska who shares the advice she has learned from those who have passed, and lessons in their wake. The characters of the book come to life again as Lende recounts their lives before their deaths. The love that Lende feels for each of her subjects is palpable. Losing someone is always hard, but this books makes life worth living.
The book was suggested to me by a friend as a “self-help book for those who don’t need help,” and how true that proved to be.
The book does not suggest living to fill an obituary column in the newspaper, it simply makes one think about what is important. Most people don’t think about their obituaries, as they seem to exist in our distant futures and are grim think about in the meantime. But surely everyone has a story worth being told, and Lende is assigned the task. In each story she finds a lesson or highlight to take away, whether it be, “Don’t judge a lady by her hat,” or knowing the value of being able to remember people’s names.
The statement that stuck out to me the most was, “I believe gratitude comes from a place in your soul that knows the story could have ended differently, and often does, and I also know that gratitude is at the heart of finding the good in this world – especially in our relationships with the ones we love.”
It is easy to take for granted what we have, or what we don’t, but this book is a reminder to pay attention to the things that built us. Each person has a story waiting to be told, however, in this day and age people become so fixated on their own lives that they don’t stop to think of others.
In a similar lesson, not everything has to be perfect to enjoy it.
“It seemed to me that everything she did, she did well. Not because she needed to be perfect but because it made her feel good to do a good job,” Lende wrote of one elderly woman. She did everything to her best ability and succeeded, most of the time. It is easy to focus on only doing the things you are perfect at, but with passion you can overcome challenges even if it is not your best work. Although the elderly woman appeared to be perfect, this was not her goal. She aimed to find contentment, without worrying what others would think of her.
I was in awe of the stories that Lende told from recluses in the woods running away from upstate New York and disappearing for thirty eight years, to a babysitter’s cat having kittens in the closet that wouldn’t leave, so were adopted.
People have fascinating lives, plain and simple, but we forget to learn their story: who they are, where they are from, their favorite season and how many alarms they set for the morning. Each fact that is shared makes that person someone worth paying attention to.
Too often, we pass everyone on the way to meetings and class hoping to simply get by. However, by stopping to wonder about those around us, we can find out the most interesting stories.
When my friend suggested this book as a self-help book for those who don’t need it, I simply opposed. I don’t need help, I’m fortunate enough to feel stable and happy. I was surely wrong in assuming that the advice given in this book would not impact me. No, it did not cure anything because there was nothing to cure, and I don’t feel a new sense of identity because I feel confident that I know who I am. This book is about something bigger.
Find the Good suitingly helped me do just that: learn to “find the good” in every situation, because surely there is a silver lining. The takeaway was minimal in the fact that it won’t solve any problems, but learning to look at those around you with a new sense of curiosity and to seek happiness instead of comfort is invaluable in and of itself.
feature photo is the cover of the book Find the Good