A sad duty became creepy when I mistakenly buried someone prematurely. Somehow I became the keeper of the “In Memoriam” list for my high school class, which held its 40-year reunion earlier this month in New Jersey. The list has grown in four decades.
For a month before the reunion and in a flurry during the final week before the party, I received Facebook posts, text messages, and emails about classmates who have left this life. I had most of the names already, but wrote back each time to confirm that yes, that person would be remembered. A few of the deaths I hadn’t heard about, so I added the names to the list. It was a wearisome and sad task, especially when it required trying to quell an inappropriate Facebook thread in which people asked how this one or that one died, when, and where, all in a weird, gossipy tone.
At our last reunion five years ago, we remembered our vanished classmates by reading their names before a moment of silence. This commemoration bummed some people out, who complained that reading the names put a pall on the festivities—their terrible word choice, not mine.
This time, the In Memoriam list was on an easel in the room. I tried not to hang around there, having had enough of my role of doom. But several people sought me out that evening to tell me that one classmate on the list wasn’t dead. “My friend just saw him last week,” one woman said insistently, tapping her cellphone and calling someone to verify.
About the third or fourth time I was told of this error, I fetched a Sharpie and carefully lined out the name. I still haven’t gone back through my notes to find out when and by whom I was given the name of this non-dead person. Was it a bad joke? Or did someone from another class have the same name or a similar one?
I thought that lining the name out on the list took care of it, but not entirely. A few days after I came back to California, a text message from another classmate said that someone she knew had been dating the man who was erroneously pronounced dead. I replied that I had been informed of the mistake and that I wasn’t sure how it had happened. I said that obviously it was very good news to find out it wasn’t true and to please apologize on my behalf to the man’s friend.
Her forgiving response made me laugh. “It’s OK,” she wrote. “I just wasn’t sure how she was communicating with him.”