Janice was looking for something to do, something that would be worthwhile. She had tried all sorts of activities, but none seemed to fulfill her in a way she wanted to be fulfilled. Then she had an idea.

Every day she read the obituaries in the local newspaper. It was the only part of the paper that held any interest for her. She disliked reading about murders or highway accidents or drowning victims, and she really hated reading about politics. Janice kind of looked forward to reading the obituaries, not just to see if she knew anybody, but to read about other people’s lives.

“You could read novels, you know,” her friend Alverna kept telling her.

“Yeah, but they’re not about real people,” Janice would counter.

“I think a good fictional character is as real as, or maybe even more real than someone whose obituary you read in the paper. Who writes those anyway? Family members, I guess. Maybe sometimes the deceased person composes an obituary before death. Could be. But all you get are the surface details, nothing about the inner person. That’s what you get in a good novel.”

“You have a point. But somehow, I’m drawn to these people. Especially the really old ones. Sometimes they’re people who never married or never had kids or their siblings are all dead. Who goes to their funeral?”

“I haven’t a clue. Maybe that’s something you could do.” Janice laughed at her own little joke.

“That’s a great idea!”

“I was kidding. You’re not serious, are you?”

“Yes. Yes, I am. I’m going to start going to funerals of elderly people. I’ll read their obituaries so I know something about them.”

“So, are you going to pretend to be a relative? I get it, a relative who’s looking for money!”

“Alverna, you know I’d never do that. No, I just want someone to be there, in case there are no mourners, or just a few.”

“So, will you say something?”

Janice thought a moment. “I don’t know. I guess it depends on whether I go to both the calling hours and the funeral. If there are both.”

“Do you think it matters if you go to both?”

“Yeah, I think so. If they have both, then I think I should go to both.”

The very next day Janice examined the obituaries over her coffee and her doughnut. There it was: her very first challenge. “Lucretia Beatrice Haines died after a long illness on Tuesday. She was 98.” Janice noted that Lucretia had taught Latin, that she had no siblings, that she never married.

“Gosh. I’d better go to this one,” she said out loud. “No one is going to be there. Or maybe only a few people. I hope someone will be there besides me.”

As an unmarried retired teacher herself, she felt drawn to Lucretia Beatrice Haines. Had Lucretia loved teaching? Had she been a strong woman who demanded the best of her students? Janice reread the obituary and decided to go to the funeral service, to be held the next day at St. Paul Parish, with calling hours for 30 minutes before the service. That certainly implied that they didn’t expect many people.

Janice dressed conservatively the next day—as she always did—but she avoided decking herself out in total black. That seemed extreme. Instead, she chose a grey jacket with a dark blue skirt and a white blouse. That seemed appropriate.

She drove to the church, a place she had never been before. As she entered, she saw the coffin in front of the altar. A solitary man was standing there.

“Hello, I’m Bernard Halloran.”

“I’m Janice Oberndorfer.”

They stood there in silence. “Are you a relative?” Janice said.

“No. Are you?”


Janice looked over at the coffin. Lucretia Beatrice Haines looked peaceful. She looked old. She looked like a strong woman who would have taken no nonsense from her students, or from anyone else.

“I was a student of Lucretia’s years ago. I’ve loved Latin ever since. Because of her, I became a Latin teacher.” Janice said nothing.

“So, I kept in touch with her over the years. I was hoping that maybe some other students would show up. Were you a student of hers, or a friend?”


He seemed to be waiting for an explanation. She cleared her throat.

“Here’s the thing. I always read the obituaries. Sometimes I see that really old people have died without any survivors, or so it seems at any rate. I thought I would start going to their funerals, in case no one, or very few people, showed up. I guess I don’t have much of a life.” She gave a little laugh and looked at Bernard’s kind face. “I’m a retired teacher, too. English was my subject.”

“What an extraordinary idea! Are you attempting to be a moirologist?”


“A professional mourner. A paid mourner. Certain cultures used to have them.”

“Now that’s an extraordinary idea. No, I have no interest in being paid. I guess I just don’t want anyone to be alone, or lonely, even when they’re dead.”

“That’s very kind of you. Would you like to sit down?”

She nodded. They entered the first pew and waited in the quiet. After a few minutes, Bernard looked at Janice. Janice turned her head and looked at Bernard. She smiled. He took her hand.