Do obituaries really have to be polite?
“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” – William Shakespeare.
The story went viral, so you’ve likely heard of the 74-year-old Texas man whose death emboldened his embittered daughter (against the advice of the funeral director) to post a scathing online obituary that catalogued his myriad shortcomings as a father and human being.
The obvious question now is “Will this be a News of The Weird FLUKE, or the beginning of a TREND of brutal honesty -- gray print merges with ‘The Jerry Springer Show’?”
Of course members of Polite Society are aghast that this story might inspire others to coarsen our culture and tamper with the genteel way dirt naps have “always” been tiptoed around. Just as an insincere congressman can defer to “the distinguished gentleman from South Carolina,” we’re supposed to give the deceased a glowing (or at least neutral) send-off, even if the consensus of 97 percent of scientists is that they demonstrably weren’t worth the dynamite it would take to blow them up. This pattern is carried out because… well, just because.
It goes along with the old pious paradigm of “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all – because the irrepressible scamp may come at you with a switchblade.”
Perhaps the “prim and proper” folks should donate funds so likely-to-be-trashed sociopaths can afford to arrange retorts to be published posthumously. (“I’m ashes and you’re glue. Whatever you say about me bounces off and… ah, skip it.”)
Yeah, yeah, it’s supposedly unsporting to kick someone while they’re down. Maybe Uncle John should’ve realized when he was DROWNING KITTENS that someday HE would be the one vulnerable and deceased.
Philosophically speaking, if there is no afterlife, the taunts can’t hurt the un-dearly departed. Or, if the deceased goes to The Bad Place, the critiques are the least of his worries. If he somehow reaches the Good Place, he can chuckle and forgive the venting.
Many people find the standard obituary template (birth and death dates, survivors, employment history, etc.) to be claustrophobically bland. They pay for a more personalized tribute a week or two after the bare-bones death notice, so maybe we could have a two-tiered system for negative obituaries, to allow for a “cooling off” period. (“Okay, I’m back on my meds now. I wrote WHAT about Aunt Geraldine? Boy, is my face red!”)
I understand your trepidations about slippery slopes. Justifiable denunciations of wife beating or substance abuse might eventually open the door to nitpicky dissing of more subjective behaviors. (“Sure, my father won six medals in Operation Desert Storm; but I’ll bet his comrades would have bayoneted him if they had heard the way he slurped soup.”)
And yes, it would be ideal to have some FACT CHECKERS for the more incendiary obituaries; but, frankly, I’m glad if a warts-and-all obituary can bring a wronged person closure, catharsis or peace of mind. I would rather their bottled up emotions get released against an urn on the mantel than against my Chevy S10 when I’m slowing the progress of their 18-wheeler.
Ultimately, aren’t we being less than totally honest when we claim that decent people NEVER speak ill of the dead? I don’t hear many (sane) people chirping, “Give Hitler credit for making Anne Frank famous. What a Hollywood agent he could’ve made!”
©2017 Danny Tyree. Danny welcomes email responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.” Danny’s weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate.