Honest Obituaries

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Image copyright by Loura Lawrence


“As long as we have a man’s body, we play our Vanities upon it, surrounding it with humbug and ceremonies, laying it in state, and packing it up in gilt nails and velvet: and we finish our duty by placing over it a stone, written all over with lies.”

~Vanity Fair, William M. Thackeray


It has always been curious to me how, after someone has died, the memories of loved ones tend to whitewash the actions of the deceased, at least in words. We remember them not as they were, but as we wanted them to be. This culturally sacred cow of “never speaking ill of the dead”, comes down through the years of history from Chilon of Sparta, circa 500 BC (http://spartareconsidered.blogspot.com/2013/01/a-spartan-philosopher-chilon-wise.html), who first wrote the phrase, and then from the ancient pagan belief that to talk about the bad things a deceased person has done, will bring bad luck or worse on a home.

Our modern culture is not quite so superstitious, however the practice remains under the assertion of respect. But what if those bad things people won’t say (but are thinking) are true, not merely malicious gossip?

obitIt is assumed that allowing the bereaved to say and think whatever they want or need to say or believe in their time of grief is beneficial to them. Besides, no one wants to further upset an already deeply hurting person. I have always wondered if the practice of issuing dishonest obituaries or eulogies at funerals is truly healthy. Is it good to pretend a person was someone they may not have been? Would it not be better to use a person’s life and death, as an example to those still living? As a call for positive change for a true life well lived?

There is a new trend of mostly younger people bucking this long tradition of saying “good-things-only” about the deceased. Take these truly honest obituaries, for example that sought to educate and bring good changes on issues like child abuse, heroin use, and more:

http://www.newsmax.com/TheWire/scathing-obituary-nevada-woman/2013/09/13/id/525466/

http://myfavoriteobits.wordpress.com/category/painfully-honest/

http://obituaries.pressherald.com/obituaries/mainetoday-pressherald/obituary.aspx?n=molly-a-parks&pid=174674212&fhid=2691 and http://distractify.com/megan-mccormick/molly-parks-obituary/

So what do you think, dear reader? Are honest obituaries a good idea, or should the past be buried with the dead?

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For more information on the history of funeral customs and superstitions, see:

http://www.funeralinformationsociety.org/yourlastwrites/history.html

For another (similar) viewpoint concerning honest obituaries, see:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/16/obituaries-honesty

2 comments

  1. handselkoan

    Honest obits would be better, just don’t read the whole thing to the bereaved, necessarily. Dishonest ones may be the first step in aggrandizing those who don’t deserve it–and it may detract from a lesson the deceased would have wanted his or her family to learn, if possible, without making the same sorts of mistakes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ryan

    I don’t honestly know how I feel about this, maybe it depends on the situation. I don’t like hearing how great a person was, especially when it is said of them that they have gone to be with the Lord and they obviously did not live their life this way. I believe that sends a very bad and damaging message, it isn’t helpful to the grieving (because burying something under lies never helps), and potentially harmful to those who may be living their lives the same way (well he was doing drugs right up to the end and now he’s at peace and happy, why should I stop?).

    I think the obituary could be a good place to spread a message, especially if the person died because of something harmful they were doing to themselves and there are people whom they knew that are doing the same and would read that and possibly turn from it. During a funeral is another good place we need to be a little more honest and not cover things under a false life the person didn’t really live.

    However, we should always leave the headstone for the truly enlightened words to live by anyway:
    “Here lies Byron Vickers, Second Fastest Draw in New Austin.”

    Liked by 1 person

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