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Oh, and guess what? More blogging. - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
A Møøse once bit my sister ...
Oh, and guess what? More blogging.

The subject is DEATH. Not the least bit inspired by the events of Wednesday through this afternoon. Really.

Rather, it comes from an LJ post- from one susandennis. I met Susan through Eleanor, when they'd friended each other (since, not so much). We then friended each other; she, since, not so much, although I did keep her on mine, and she responds to comments I occasionally leave. Her post from earlier this weekend was a followup on one she'd done some time earlier, one I must've missed, about her having lost track of her former husband.  Another friend of hers apparently tracked him down for her, and then, just now, tracked down his obituary.  He died this past January. Nobody from his family seems to have made an effort (least not a remotely successful one) to notify her.

That strikes me as unusual, even within the often unpleasant arena of failed marital relationships. I've never entered it- not personally, nor for any family member, nor for any client in more than  30 years.  The closest I get is occasionally representing one or both divorcing spouses in bankruptcy cases. (If it's both of them, I do it, and they both specifically sign off, on what I call the "You and Me Against the World" system- I can handle their joint problems against creditors and trustees, but cannot get involved in a shred of conflict between them. Ever.) Most of these have worked out, but sometimes they get strained enough that I can't have the two of them in the same room at the same time.  Even so- I can't imagine any of them ever so losing track of the other that they wouldn't know how to get in touch with them, or that the distance (physical or emotional) would ever get so great that the loved ones of a deceased spouse wouldn't get word to their former wife or husband.

It's not just sentiment that enters in.  An ex's death could trigger a change in the other's Social Security benefits, or some long-forgotten insurance policy might have been forgotten in (or even provided for under) the terms of the divorce.  And if there were kids (there weren't in Susan's case- at least none she ever had with him), there might be medical information that should be passed along.  The guy had two other spouses that she knew of (one before her, one after), and neither of them made the obituary, either.  That's a potential goat rodeo of misinformation times three.

Bedfellows can be strange. My sister has lived in and around Binghamton, New York for almost 50 years now, and lived for about a third of those with a gentleman who'd recently divorced.  Almost from the beginning, but especially during and after Joe's battle with cancer which ended in the early 90s, Donna has been close to his ex-wife and only daughter- in recent years, probably one of their best friends in the world.  We all attended his funeral as family- dysfunctional, to be sure, but hey, it worked:)

(Oddly, Susan's now-late husband grew up in Binghamton, and one of his kids, a Robert Dennis, still lives in the area.)


The other thing this story got me thinking about is the changes in Old Journalism and social media that affect DEATH. They certainly make it easier to find out about, and discover incredibly detailed stuff concerning, the life and passing of the deceased.

First, terminology: "obituaries" are journalism. They are written by reporters, at no cost to the family, and are entirely within the paper's editorial discretion as to length and content. What many people consider "obits" are actually "death notices," essentially advertising bought and paid for by the family and/or funeral arranger, with only the cost and the paper's available space limiting what can be said.

When my father died, his was typical of death notices of the time: averaging an inch or two of small type, with little more than age, occupation, survivors and arrangements.  Accompanying pictures were rare; flags and crosses/Mogen Davids soon became an option to identify veterans and religion.  My mother's, over a decade later, was much longer and detailed. Today, these expressions are longer still, often paying the freight for the entire newspaper's budget, given the loss of display advertisers to Google and classifieds to Craigslist. Today's death notices are full of photos and quotes, and extended lists of interests and hobbies and anything else they or their family wanted everybody to know. (And sometimes that's an issue: my older sister's husband, who she predeceased by 18 years, didn't get a death notice in Newsday or the Times; Grieving Wife #2 thought it unseemly or unsafe for the family manse.)

Susan's husband also illustrates (or, rather, his death does) the other difference I've seen: the perpetuity of these things. Legacy.com, also a major player in the genealogy biz, still hosts his information for all the world to read almost four months after his passing; it'll stay up even longer if a kind relation will "sponsor" the page after the tastefully free period of shiva. Her ex was a retired journalist, so his hometown paper also gave him an extensive obituary, which will also live on in cyberspace indefinitely.  The obit spoke of his past reporting and his contribution to a Pulitzer-winning series in 1981; his death notice actually quotes at length from articles he wrote (neither of them the Pulitzer winner).

And then there are the codes (none I could find in her ex's, but they exist). Some you know: "longtime companion" was Deathspeak for gay relationships for so long, it became the name of perhaps the most famous movie about AIDS ever made.  Then there's this one, which I learned of last year in this New Yorker piece about the epidemic of drug deaths in the city's most suburban borough:

Johnathan Crupi’s parents, Barry and Candace Crupi, did not want his obituary in the Advance to say he “died at home”—a newspaper formula sometimes used for overdose victims. The writeup described him as a “wonderful kid until drugs came” and said he died of a heroin overdose.

One small but meaningful factor in me choosing law over journalism in 1981 (the year of this guy's Pulitzer- go figure) was my distaste at having the scut newsroom job of pre-writing or updating obituaries for famous people who were Not Dead Yet.  Nowadays, the internet doubtless makes these easier if not entirely unnecessary, but every now and then you'll see a story about one getting posted online to great embarrassment.  Just ask Morgan Freeman how THAT goes.


We've done no preplanning, our wills are ridiculously out of date (guardianship issues gone, among other things), and we really have to get our various plans and policies over to the planner who we did our 2014 IRA work with. But one thing's certain to me, at least: whatever gets said about me from the other side of the linen lining, be it good or bad, professionally reported or paid for, I won't hear or give a shit about a word of it.

3 comments or Leave a comment
susandennis From: susandennis Date: April 26th, 2015 11:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
Interesting take on my entry. For the record, we divorced 30 years ago and last spoke 20+ years. Our lack of communications was by mutual agreement and no animosity. We just didn't have anything in common or anything to talk about. There were zero ties, medical, financial, governmental. We last lived in the same time zone in 1986. I have had less contact with his children than with him over the last 30 years.

So, I had no expectations at all that anyone would contact me upon his death. If I died, no one would bother to tell anyone he knows either nor should they.

Maybe we're a different breed.

warriorsavant From: warriorsavant Date: April 27th, 2015 03:27 am (UTC) (Link)
For the longest time, my ex- was still my best friend. Even today, I don't know if that was civilized or pathetic. We had an amiable divorce, which even though better than an vicious one, is still excruciating. Rarely in touch now, but would imagine we'd know if the other one died, although, come-to-think of it, not sure how.
symian From: symian Date: April 27th, 2015 03:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
Pre-planning? What is that?


All of my stuff is out of date too. I am going to work on it this week. Then it will sit for another 10 or so years.
3 comments or Leave a comment