Deathwish 037: Shawn

Editor Matty Byloos, Editor's Choice, April 13th, 2016

"...but the dead have always served as cautions to the living."

deathwish 37 shawn


I love an obit.

I’m a biographer, and to absorb a whole life, what-the-fuck bits and all, before I finish my coffee, is damn near heaven.

I love the obits in small-town papers; I love the obits written by families (especially those in verse); I love the novella-sized obits of world-alterers like David Bowie and Harper Lee.

But mostly I love the daily obits in The New York Times, easily the best in America. They’re the dessert in the TV Dinner; I often leave them until I’ve labored through the rest of the paper, a reward for taking in the nourishment of the whole.

In fact, I use them for more than narrative pleasure.

In the headline of each obit in The Times, there’s a number: the age of the deceased. And I’ve come to see those numbers as rational, unimpeachable reminders of the finitude of life.

Every day, I compute an average of those ages, a sum as random as a toss of the I Ching, and use it as a memento mori, spurring me to get to it, to make use of myself, to embrace the living spirit, and, if nothing else, to eat smart, stay off the sauce, and hit the gym.

Some days the number is high, buoyed by a centenarian or a crop of eightysomethings, and I’m green and springy and maybe have a second dessert. Some days it’s low, close to my own age (or, chillingly, below), and I turn sober and purposeful. (I’ve considered excluding accidents, overdoses, and suicides to boost the number, but alive is alive, and dead is dead, and just try quibbling with mortality.)

It’s a ritual: Just as I don’t make decisions about money on days when I can’t finish the crossword puzzle, so I am superstitious about going to sleep without generating the Daily Death Score.

It’s macabre, I know, but the dead have always served as cautions to the living.

Besides, technically, I’m hoping they all lived loooooong lives.


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To read the previous installment, “Deathwish 036: Elizabeth,” go here. To participate in Deathwish, find details here.

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Shawn was born in Brooklyn, New York and currently lives in Portland, Oregon.


Matty Byloos

Matty Byloos is Co-Publisher and a Contributing Editor for NAILED. He was born 7 days after his older twin brother, Kevin Byloos. He is the author of 2 books, including the novel in stories, ROPE ('14 SDP), and the collection of short stories, Don't Smell the Floss ('09 Write Bloody Books).