Obituary battles

She saw the obituary and worried it was her brother.

Just the name and date of death were listed, and the name was the same.

“He married a woman who wouldn’t call us,” she explained.

It wasn’t her brother. The age was wrong, by a decade, and different relatives were listed on the funeral home’s website.

I heard the exhale over the phone.

Family issues often come to the forefront when someone dies. At a time when I’d like to think even warring relatives could put aside differences for a day, they seem to come armed for battle instead. And obituary writers often find ourselves caught in the cross hairs.

Once we ran three different versions of an obituary for one man, two on the same day, because they couldn’t agree on what to say. Various obituaries left out various relatives. The funeral home gave up and said run them all.

Sometimes the funeral home warns us about an errant relative trying to take over the proceedings; those times we save obituaries from the wrong person with big notes scrawled across the top: ‘Don’t run!’

Reading between the lines, there’s tension in survivor lists. One grandchild named, all others listed by a number. A wife (legally an exwife) named after the mother, the children.

When the woman on the phone hung up, I exhaled, too. I didn’t want to be the person to tell her that her brother had died.

But I hope the scare made her pick up the phone again, dial his number, maybe patch things up before it’s too late.


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