Thursday, July 12, 2012


If Obituaries Were in the Conditional

F. would have gone into finance. In college, he would have taken German to add to his French, English, and Spanish, so he could go on to work for a European bank, probably Credit Suisse. He'd start on the trading desks but move to selling their services to other financial firms across Europe, which would allow him to travel more. Two of our friends from high school would crash on his couch when backpacking across Europe. The three of them would chat and smoke pot while he fiddled around on his newest €3,000 guitar as if everything were the same. When they came back to the US, they would report to the rest of us that he'd totally changed.

L. would have helped my mother finish decorating our living room, adding more details to the Shaker-style stenciling she once did around the top of the wall while the two of them gossiped. She would have painted a mural in our hallway, a large Shaker tree with plump round red apples, which would brighten the hall instead of making it look dingy like the pencil sketches of fairies on the walls that I drew when I was in high school. She would arrive each time with a dozen ears of corn in a paper bag under her arm and Mom would send her away with loaves of zucchini bread. I would have continued to receive hand-me-downs from her and her daughters until I graduated from high school, at which point I would have told my mother that I wouldn't wear them anymore; that I didn't want people at the college I was about to attend to think I was a farm girl.

N. would have taught high-school English well into his 70s, and when he finally retired, the other teachers (some of whom he'd once taught) would throw a huge party for him, to which everyone in town would come. There would be an open mic there where he would leave us breathless with his poetry, and we would make his eyes glisten with our stories and songs. He would show up regularly in the one café in town and join conversations without being asked, becoming not the only person who does that there, but the only one who could do it without annoying everyone.

E. would have gotten out of gym class and gone to study hall every day instead. He would claim to wish he could participate, but would look smug when we turned up in our un-air-conditioned history class after gym, still sweaty and damp from dodgeball. He would use his condition to get out of classes often, and would occasionally pick a friend to help walk him to the nurse — we would all see this as an honor, because it generally meant the two of you went to hang out in the back of the auditorium instead of going to the nurse. He would be the only one impervious to the new hall-monitor system implemented our senior year; Mrs. R. would never make him or his helper show a pass. He would have been the science expert on our quiz team, and we would have joked together in the back of the van en route to our tournaments.

A. would have read each new book alongside me; we would have formed a two-person, how-late-did-you-stay-up-reading-this book club. She would have given me Anne Sexton's Complete Poems years before I ended up finding it myself. She would have made me go to commencement when I got my MA, and she would have told my family to go, too, and she would have been there, patting her eyes under her glasses with a yellowing handkerchief. She would have brought me cookies, but I wouldn't eat them, because she would have forgotten I'm vegan and baked them with eggs.

B. would have helped me fill the walk to my new house with wildflowers. His hands would not move easily because of arthritis, but he'd direct me on what to plant where. He would bring me marigold seedlings from his own garden, assuring me they'd be hardier than whatever I could grow or buy, and they would have beautiful bright heads that would bob lazily in the sun well up to the first frost. He would have kept his amazing vegetable garden all through my childhood, and carrots would always taste like summer.

Sarah Poulette pretty much lives in the conditional (and in the Boston area). She writes a lot, cooks a lot, and has a lot of cats.

41 Comments / Post A Comment

Josh is like Germany Ambitious and Misunderstood

J. would have got some hot tattoos or get a motorcycle or something.

Roxanne Rholes

@Josh is like Germany Ambitious and Misunderstood DOOO ITTT


favorited this lol@a


That is pretty much the saddest thing I've read in a long while.

fondue with cheddar

@redheadedtwit They'd be even sadder if the IF statements were followed by BUT statements.

Also, this post makes me want to Do Things.


@jen325 I think the implicit "but" statements are way sadder than any explicit ones could ever be.

fondue with cheddar

@sniffadee True. Unless you saw one that also applied to your life, making you realize what a lame excuse it is.


Is it just me, or is this actually sadder than a regular obituary? Focusing on what someone did vs. what someone never got to do...I thought it would be kind of sweet but now I'm sad.

Lily Rowan

@simalie Incredibly sad. I would have said one of the usual jokey things about allergies or eyes leaking, but I'm just straight-up crying.


@Lily Rowan I'm just gonna go curl up in the fetal position on my bed while i imagine all the countless disappointments of my life that could be recounted in my conditional obituary, were i to die this weekend.


@simalie Yes, in a way, but I think it's also kind of a sublime way to remember someone, and let's you live in that perfect world where they did not die for a moment. I want to do my own:

J would have gotten taller and started a band, girls aching as he moodily played the bass. They would have played a shows in grubby venues, and I would have been so embarrassed when his parents invited my mom and she showed up, dancing in her unashamed former hippie way. He would have moved to Montreal for university, studied philosophy and English, gone into journalism. He would have written for a music magazine and ridden a fixie, and we would have looked at pictures of him and his beautiful girlfriend making eating late night vegan poutine on Facebook and wondered what might have been.

double paw?

@RobotsNeedLove i agree. it's more moving/powerful this way, and i think it pays more tribute to the type of person someone was rather than a list of all they did. i really enjoyed this.


@simalie But what if this is worst conditional case? Perhaps these people could've done even MORE awesome stuff. Maybe E. didn't need to skip gym class because his illness was healed and he went on to become a 10 time participant in the Ironman Challenge.

This is part of a new game I've invented called "Let's Make Everything Less Sad".


@Lily Rowan Is it terrible if it made me happy to know I made you cry?

Lily Rowan

@SarahP Nope!




@ThundaCunt The hardiness of plants refers to in what climates they thrive best/longest, etc.


I think this specific tense ("would have") is called the "conditional perfect" -- which seems really fitting.


L and I would have gotten together, instead of just emailing each other pictures of our young selves when we came across them and saying "we really should catch up!"

sarah girl

I'm pretty sure if I were reading this in a newspaper, my therapist would slap it right out my hand and say NO


I KNOW WHO YOU ARE, SARAHP!!!! I know who you aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaare (you're a Pinner, right?)!!!!!


@wee_ramekin Yes! I'm so glad I had something to do at 4 today or I would've been camping here in the comments the whole time.


i am now officially traumatized by how sad this is.


@letterbyletterc Nooooooo I'm sorry!


Woulda shoulda coulda.



M would have died, comatose, fibrillating, and gasping for breath, on the floor in her room in that condo near Pentagon City, if the fire station hadn't been right across the street.


So would have C in Boston - 2 years ago this Saturday.
This is a good way to swing this, thanks.


@BuffyBot 20-year mark for me this coming December. Think I'll throw myself a huge party and get shitfaced drunk.


K would have gotten her doctorate in evolutionary biology and spent her days (and nights) cavorting through the jungles of Madagascar where she became the preeminent expert on the elusive and reclusive aye-aye. She would go on to bring the aye-aye the fame that other like-minded ladies of the primate biology world did for the chimpanzee and gorilla (see: Diane Fossey and Jane Goodall). She would also have regular lunch dates with David Attenborough.


@Kirs Is it too late for this? Because yay, aye-ayes!

living internationally

I started thinking of the people I have lost in my life and feel so strongly that they got to LIVE without too much space for what could have been. Even my aunt, who died young with young children - if she hadn't been ill her daughter would not be the amazing medical researcher she is now and perhaps there would have been less of a concerted effort to see her family and we wouldn't have the close relationship we do. Non, je ne regrette rien I guess. But maybe I'm just lucky?


I loved this. Now obituaries seem as if they're only telling half the story.


Dear God, I click through to your blog and while I'm happy that you are moving to a bigger place, that condo is just the the most charming place ever. I would LOVE to live there; I can see why you'll miss it. Oh, and also, I'm crying.


@silviesays Haaaaa I wish more people had thought that when we were selling it. Also, thanks!




I'm definitely going to remember this next time I read my alumni magazine and feel bitter about how people like F. would have been are ruining the world. Beautiful and sad. Thank you.


I love this, so sad and beautiful! It made me weep & I keep thinking about it. Great stuff x


S would have graduated college two years after the peers he entered with, and would have easily found work as a middle school science teacher, and he would have coached the high school's fencing team. He would have finally made it out to sdcc. He would still spend a lot of time with his frat brother, and at one of their weddings, he would have met a nice Jewish woman who was also a comic and sci fi nerd. At their wedding, they would have embraced the current nerd live, and gone with a superhero theme.


Late to this, but just wanted to say that it is beautiful. Thanks, Sarah.

Flies in my eyes

Thank you. I wrote one myself and it was cathartic. I would post it, but for some reason it feels private. But thank you for posting this, it was beautiful and helpful :)

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