Obituaries and memorials are reflections of our nation’s history. They are public expressions of our cultural values. Obituaries and memorials also suggest the history of America’s view of death. Each person’s life story contributes to the social collective.

Gail Rink

Obituaries are subtle vehicles to experience the values and beliefs of the citizenry. They contain the familial and personal demographics of the deceased. Place of birth. Lineage. Education. Employment. Family survivors. Remembrances. Place of burial. Time of services. A respectful biography. Obituaries are a place to define the “living qualities” of a person.

Memorials serve much the same purpose. However, memorials are concrete objects. Naming of buildings. Head stones. Donations. Cemeteries. Crosses at the roadside. Bouquets against a fence. Memorials are markers of the past that help us remember and give meaning to our lives.

A friend was describing his first trip to Normandy. As he spoke, his eyes were somewhere else. He saw Normandy. His words were courage, vast, brave. His breathing hastened. He felt Normandy. My friend believes that life can be bold, raw and gallant. He knows suffering. He values courage, honesty and bravery. The Normandy memorial mirrored his own beliefs.

Cremation expanded the value of memorials. Memorial services replaced funerals as a celebration of life. Family and friends participate in designing the service. The personal touch is evident. The deceased seems to be present everywhere.

During the 1980s and early ‘90s, many of the patients I served had AIDS. Memorial services could be extraordinary. Prayer flags along the beach at Padero. Rain sticks. Photo collages. Favorite shoes. A crib full of teddy bears. Memorial services can be very intimate; actually, you can set just about any tone you choose. More services than not have the tone of the honoree. Memorial services help us reconstruct the past into the present. Memory goes to feelings, relationships and influence. We connect. We celebrate. We remember.

Certainly, death is more out of the closet with the integration of hospice care into health care, into the culture, into our lives. Hospice people are the sentries to keeping the door opened in regards to end of life care and education. We companion one another. We share our skills and educate you as you experience one of life’s most sacred events. However, families and friends provide the real caring.

We learn from the obituaries the real person you cared for. The person you loved. We attend the memorial services to find our place among all the family and friends who served him and who knew him far longer than we did. We gather to share our respect for the families and loved ones. We are honored to have served.

I invite you to participate in the obituaries and memorial project between Hospice of Santa Barbara and Noozhawk. Post obituaries at Noozhawk and link to the hospice Web site at for a more personal opportunity to design your memorials.

— Gail Rink, MSW, is executive director of Hospice of Santa Barbara.