The Obituaries of James Dorner

James Dorner, a resident of Harrison, Michigan, passed away on Saturday, March 5, 2016. He was 65 years old. His memorial service will be held on Wednesday, March 8, at Calvary Baptist.

James Dorner, a resident of Harrison, Michigan, died sometime earlier this week, but his body wasn’t discovered until Saturday. It’s easier to report the day the coroner pronounced death than to explain the gap. His memorial service will be held on Wednesday, March 8, at the smallest church in town.

When James Dorner died, it took his family a full day to determine his exact birthday. He was, it turns out, barely 65 years old.

Was James Dorner religious? Would James Dorner find the cremation of his remains an act of desecration? Did anyone bother to ask before signing the papers, before booking the church, before writing scripture on the funeral program? Does anyone know?

James Dorner is survived by his estranged daughter and his sister’s three children: Nora, Eve, and Mason Dorner. The daughter learned of her father’s death on Wednesday. The daughter’s mother RSVP’d “no” to the funeral. No RSVPs were requested.

James Dorner, apparently 65, was not a man easily captured in photographs. He is survived by his daughter, 23, who never saw her father’s face at 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, or 65. Her cousins presented her with photos of years 59 and 62, but everything left of 65 was held within the dull brass of his urn.

After James Dorner died at the age of 65, his daughter learned that calling human remains ashes was a euphemism for something much more violent. Gravel. Bone chips. Discrete pieces to be stared at, to scrape raggedly against curious fingertips.

The death of James Dorner left his surviving nieces and nephew (Nora, Eve, and Mason Dorner) “flummoxed.” They questioned the morality of performing rituals of grief when little grief was felt, but a funeral seemed like the thing to do. This is why they asked James Dorner’s estranged daughter—collectively, in a group chat on Facebook—if she would help by writing the obituary. She said yes because—

New York City installed the world’s first “Don’t Walk” sign to stymie an epidemic of pedestrian injuries on the day my father was born. The day he died, nothing else mattered.

All the memorial candles were lit by the time I arrived at Calvary Baptist, so I pinched one of the flames and put the extinguished thing in my purse. The wax is still spilled across the bag’s lining, and more of it crumbles to the bottom every time I reach for my wallet. I am trying to be gentle. I am trying, also, to forget the wax is there.

Photo used under CC.