The Obituary Challenge

Mourning Coffee, by Tracy Renee LeeWhen something is broken, you fix it. Unfortunately, when a family is broken, this is not possible. One might spend countless hours trying to compensate for spousal and parental failure; however, most often the psychological damage upon one’s family is irreparable. My case this week demonstrates this point perfectly.

An obituary is an announcement of death posted in the newspaper and other key media. It contains vital genealogical and pertinent service information. Ill feelings and pain often surface due to this critical notice. If one’s name is omitted, or if one is listed improperly, family members near and far will enter the fray. The hurdle of properly composing a death notice can be quite challenging for broken and blended families.

The service information acts to inform family, friends, acquaintances, associates and employers that an event of great magnitude is happening at a particular place and time. This event is one that if missed, offers no other opportunity to reoccur. It is an event that provides spiritual, physical and psychological healing to those who intimately knew the deceased, as well as to those who were barely acquainted with him or her. It also serves to put others on notice that those connected with the deceased may be in need of extra understanding during their recovery process. Human connection is not based on the amount of time one has known another; it is based on spiritual, physical and psychological reliance, attraction and communion. Two people can be in a crowded auditorium, never exchange words with each other, and from afar, share a spiritual connection that has the ability to change the course of their lives. Those two same people may experience an instant psychological or intellectual aversion or attraction toward each other. It is also possible for them to experience a mutual physical attraction or even a not so mutual attraction toward each other with a mere glance from across this same crowded auditorium. The fact is that human connection is deeply rooted, vast and complex. It is therefore nearly impossible when connections have been severed, to repair simply the massive casualties that inflict those whose core faculties have been damaged. Parents especially should consider the damaging ramifications that an immature or selfish decision will eternally inflict upon their innocent children. Although initially, a marriage contract involves just two people, as soon as their union is formalized, their actions and decisions affect generations of kinship both up and down their lineal reach.

Kinship information is the actual beast of the obituary. Obituaries have served as kinship records when formal, and legal records have been lost or destroyed. This increases the responsibilities of accurately listing genetic kinship. This genetic linkage is precisely why detailed obits list kinship by relationship terms to the deceased and the non-genetic persons as husbands, wives, stepparents, etc. An example of this terminology would be, “John Matheson is survived by his Aunts Sophie and husband George Rivers of Butte Montana, and Mary and husband Dan Smith Oceanside California; his Uncles Harrison Matheson and wife Sarah of Longview Texas, and Stewart Rainier and wife Claire of Paris France. This listing plainly states which persons are genetically linked and which are contracted appendages.

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What then does one list when families have broken contractual unions with genetic linkage? Children often grow up never knowing their genetic relatives or resenting them due to broken commitments and responsibilities. As these children become adults, their relationships with blended families have been the primary structure of love and support throughout their lives. It is in such a situation that these children, justifiably resentful of the broken promises and structures experienced during their youths, now find themselves faced with the dilemma of constructing an accurate obituary. If a genetic parent failed to fulfill his or her role, and a contracted parent did, why then would one not list the stepparent as the parent and leave the genetic parent out of the composition? To this end, the obituary becomes a compositional nightmare.

Good people who come forward and fulfill roles where others have been derelict are amazing people. They step in and give of themselves. They sacrifice for children who are not genetically their own. They are a gift from heaven and deserve a respectful title within the obituary. Somehow, calling an excellent stepfather anything other than the role he filled seems disrespectful and may be seen as rude by those who love him. What about stepchildren? I am a stepmother, yet I do not think of my stepdaughter in any way other than my daughter. When I die, I do not want her listed in my obituary as my stepdaughter or my bonus daughter; I want her name beside my other children’s names without any separation indicators at all.

My case this week was faced with this exact dilemma. Their obituary was constructed with her father and mother listed as deceased. Upon printing, my phone and email began to overflow with incoming complaints about her father being enumerated in the obituary rather than her stepfather. Our attempts to mend feelings within this family were swift. We rewrote the obituary to read, “She was preceded in death by her father X, and her parents Mrs. and Mr. Y.” Although this listing was a bit unorthodox, it stated both genetic and historically accurate information to the satisfaction of all.

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About Tracy Lee

My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am a Certified Grief Counselor (GC-C), Funeral Director (FDIC), published author, syndicated columnist, and co-founder of the “Mikey Joe Children’s Memorial” and Heaven Sent, Corp. I write books, weekly bereavement articles, and Grief BRIEFs related to understanding and coping with grief. I am the American Funeral Director of the Year Runner-Up and recipient of the BBB’s Integrity Award. It is my life's work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.

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