The obit

Dateline: Thu 30 Oct 2008

A friend sent a copy of an obituary that was printed in a West Coast newspaper late this summer.

It's an example of something I've fantasized about for years: an obit that tells the truth, or at least one person's version of it. So mom, instead of being "beloved mother, grandmother," etc., is a woman who "had no hobbies, made no contributions to society and rarely shared a kind word or deed in her life." It gets worse. (see excerpts at the end of this post)

Culturally, we have observed for forever "Speak No Ill of the Dead." But no more, apparently. You pay for the obit; you can say whatever the hell you want.

It's cold, as my friend's friends said. But it certainly provokes discussion. At a small social gathering last night, that happened to include several therapists, we talked about the obit for Dolores Aguilar, 1929-Aug. 7, 2008. Was it hurtful or helpful? Was it rude and inappropriate or liberating? "It's too bad it could not have been said while she was alive," said one former social worker. "What a lot of baggage to carry around," said another, adding, "Maybe this is the only way to disconnect." A younger family member thought it was "funny" in a sick wort of way. Generation gap?

My take? The person who wrote it had saved thousands of dollars in therapy by paying a couple hundred bucks to let Gannett do the dirty work: trash the old lady in a public fashion. But I also ask: is it ethical? Is it moral? Will putting it in print and spreading it around only compound the hurt? Most of us know that a trick of therapy is to write that angry letter to whomever, then burn it up or throw it away. What is served by publishing it? What does it say about newspapers' policies on obits, which these days are often written by non-reporters for a price?

Anyhow, here it is:

"Dolores Aguilar, born in 1929 in New Mexico, left us on Aug. 7, 2008. She will be met in the afterlife by her husband Raymond, son Paul and daughter Ruby. She is survived by (...six daughters, one son, numerous grandchildren etc. are listed).

After the crack about having no hobbies, it goes downhill, "I speak for the majority of her family when I say her presence will not be missed by many, very few tears will be shed and there will be no lamenting over her passing.

"Her family will remember Dolores and amongst ourselves we will remember her in our own way, which was mostly sad and troubling times throughout the years. We may have some fond memories of her...but I truly think ALL will really only miss what we never had: a good and kind mother, grandmother and great grand-mother. I hope she is finally at peace with herself. As for the rest of us, I hope this is a time for healing...

"There will be no services, no prayers and no closure for the family she spent a lifetime tearing apart. We cannot come together at the end ...to say our goodbyes. So I say here for all of us GOODBYE MOM."

Thoughts?

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