September 20, 2012
It isn’t only in cases of divorce and remarriage that a family obituary writer exhibits some serious prejudice. I always thought that the purpose of an obituary was to describe the important aspects of the deceased’s life regardless of whether you liked that person or not. Well, can you beat this:
The mother of a longtime female acquaintance of mine (Lisa) died. I hate to call her a “friend.” Lisa didn’t like her father particularly, who had died a dozen years earlier while married to her mother. Lisa’s dad wasn’t a criminal or a wife- or childbeater. He supported the family, including this daughter (an only child) and her university education. There’s worse than him in this world. So, when Mom passed on, Spoiled Daughter Lisa composed a detailed obituary – which completely omitted any reference this husband and father. It was as if Lisa’s late mother had found her child under a cabbage leaf. This obit was painful to read. I’ve seen similar obituaries (of people I know) with failures to mention the obvious. Even in death, they can’t get a break.
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Discourtesy and cruelty flourish in a non-judgemental society.
Where were all the women and men to put loving Lisa in her place?
This reminds me of one of the more memorable stories from my time working the obituary desk at a daily newspaper. A gentleman died, and his firstborn (so I thought) son prepared a nice obituary. It was unusually well-written for a family submission, going on at some length about the man’s interests, beliefs, hobbies, and values. It read like a solid tribute to a very good father and husband, and I told the young man as much via phone when he called to inquire about requirements for submission of digital photographs. The next day I received a hysterical phone call from a woman demanding to know how to “revoke an obituary.” I clarified her meaning quickly. The young man who wrote the obituary was the firstborn of the deceased gentleman’s second wife. Apparently, the entire obituary had been written to anger the first wife and her children, the young man’s half-siblings. Its statement that he enjoyed grilling steaks for his family was meant to be a slight against the first wife’s vegetarian diet. His conservative values, a slight against the first wife’s marching in support of local public school teachers. It went on and on.
I was appalled, but of course beyond the fact of a decedent’s name, gender, and dates of birth and death, the newspaper had neither the obligation nor the means to verify information for obituaries. And I couldn’t publish a “revocation.” This was after the paper moved to charging for obituaries, so the young lady who had called elected to write her own obituary, publishing her own account of her father’s life. The half-siblings apparently spoke to each other, and word spread from one group to the other that a different version would run the next day, from the man’s first set of children. The second set of children (who published the initial obituary) decided to pay the fee to have their version run for another day.
Thus, the next day featured two obituaries of the same man, one by his second wife and her children, one by his first wife and her children. Their accounts were radically different. Each left out the other spouse and children. Who knows which came closer to the truth of the gentleman’s beliefs and values? I was appalled by the spectacle, and it reminded me that the carnage of divorce doesn’t heal itself. (The second marriage had lasted for 25 years.) The consequences go on and on, without end.
Posted by Laura Wood in Uncategorized