A day in the life of an obit writer

September 8, 2006 at 1:16 am (Uncategorized)


elvira_thumb.jpgPeople are Strange, By Mandy Malone

My work as an obituary writer is quite unpredictable. People handle grief in different ways and I have to be prepared for anything when someone comes to our lobby to place an obituary.

Today, however, I was brought face to face with one of the strangest situations I have ever faced when a man came in today to place an obituary for his dying mother.

Back in January 2005 a mother and son came to our lobby at deadline to place an obituary for the woman’s husband. This seems normal enough, but the man’s mother was suffering from dementia and began wandering around the newsroom, rearranging pictures and walking into offices. The son, who had a few problems of his own, did not want his mother to know that her husband had died, so he told his mother that they were at the Shipyard and I was a secretary.

Forty-five minutes and several phone calls to a relative he disliked later, we had an obituary he was happy with and this became one of the more colorful episodes in my obituary writing career.

Well, this afternoon, the man came back. His mother is dying and he thought he had left her obituary with us. He had not and became quite belligerent and stormed off I told him that while we still had his father’s obituary photo, he had not left us with anything other than that.

While I wait to see how the next chapter in this situation plays out, I thought I would ask readers of the blog about their strange and unusual encounters with people and how they handled them. Certainly I am not the only one who has these encounters, although some days it seems like I attract them like a magnet.



  1. jarheaddoc said,

    The entire deal of funerals and obits just kills me, Mandy. One of my aunts spent about a gazillion dollars on her son’s funeral, mahogany casket, two preachers, every little thing the funeral director suggested, she bought.

    That fucker is probably still in the Caribbean from that one.

    I just don’t get it: her fucking house was falling apart at the seams and she spent her money on a box that was only going to be seen once and put into the ground.

    Just dig me a hole, plant the acorn in my ass so I will at least leave a tree for the world, and use the money you saved for something else

  2. K2 said,

    Yeah, funeral homes are a total cash crop. ‘Hey, let’s take advantage of greiving people! Hooray!’

    Fuck that. Let me rot in the woods like any other detritus.

  3. Mandy, the obit writer said,

    I remembered the name of the funeral home this guy worked with when his father died and called them up. His mother is still alive, although he apparently showed up at the funeral home yesterday to find out about the pre-arrangements.

  4. K2 said,

    Well, maybe he doesn’t want the funeral home to make a grave error.

    So, tell me all you people know why there are fences around grave yards.

    Because people are dying to get in. *snare, high hat, cymbol*

  5. jarheaddoc said,

    And a fire hose to knock the fool off the stage, please….

  6. Linda said,

    What about pre-paying for your final arrangements? Now THAT’S a cash crop. Here, have a pile of my money and I hope you get to keep it for a REALLY LONG TIME before you have to do anything for it. Betting on both sides, isn’t it?

  7. jarheaddoc said,

    My mother in law did that, prepaid her funeral expenses, and you know what? We still got a fucking bill. Granted, it wasn’t much, but it’s the point of it.

    Have any of you ever watched Six Feet Under?

  8. Linda said,

    I have. Very funny.

  9. Crystal said,

    LOVE that show

  10. LaFlamme said,

    I don’t get HBO, you bastards.

  11. LaFlamme said,

    There’s a great book called “The American Way of Death” about the funeral industry. Lots of corruption there, in addition to the unmitigated greed.

  12. LaFlamme said,

    Incidentally, the above photo is a decent representation of our obit writing friend.

  13. Richie said,

    We have the Victorian English to thank for our current funerary practises; but obviously we’ve gone far beyond anything they might have contemplated. There are two things that have become very uncommon now days. Birth and death; the two universal constants, have been removed from the group of “common” things that ‘everyone’ knows about. Now days you go to a hospital to have a child, and you go to a hospital to die. And we hide and confuse everything with euphemisms like “passing on” & so forth. Eons pass, quarterbacks pass; someday when I get old I wil die. Not “pass away”.

    My wifes brother died at a young age. Her mother washed and dressed the body; and he was ‘waked’ right there in the house. I believe they got a coffin from somewhere; and the body was subsequently removed to the cemetary for burial. Death was no secret. Neither was birth, as Mom had several kids right there in that same house, attended by a mid-wife.

    OTOH, I remember as a child my grandfather dieing when I was around 11 or 12. One day he’s alive, then he disappears for a few days, and then the last time I see him he’s laying in a fancy metal box, and then he’s in a hole in the ground.

    When our first child was born, I remember vividly taking my wife to the hospital and dropping her off. they told me to leave (they wouldn’t let me hang around either) but they’d call after the child was born. Catholic hospital in Lawrence, Mass. I’m glad things changed shortly after that. Life and death is no stranger to me.

    The saddest calls I’ve ever gone to were ones where an elderly long-time-married couple, one dieing in their sleep. The other person would look so lost and forlorn; not knowing what to do. Death becomes very personal then.

    I’m amazed by the crap that gets written in obits. It’s like; brag time or something. People always seem to die after a “brave fight with an (un-named) disease” or some such. What a load of horse hockey. “Mark Laflamme, local newspaper gumshoe, croaked after a bout of drinking wood alcohol and metal shavings” is much better than ‘”Mark LaFlamme, noted writer and author, passed away after a brief courageous struggle with , whatever”. Tell us useful stuff; like, what they died of for example. If the plague is going around, I’d sure like to be told !

    No, death is inevitable.

    Here’s your history note for the day:
    In 1942, at Akhtyrka in the Ukraine, the “GrossDeutschland” Division maintained a training camp. They had a big sign over the gate to the camp; to remind the trrainees every time they marched through: “Erinnern Sie sich! Sie sind geboren, um zu sterben!” (roughly: “Remember ! You are born to Die”

  14. LaFlamme said,

    Why is it always wood alcohol when someone prognosticates on the matter of my death? Why can’t I get hit by a beer truck once in a while?

  15. Richie said,

    Yah, you’re right.

    “Mark LaFlamme, noted newspaper gumshoe was struck dead when he attempted to hijack a beer truck. It was a courageous fight, but the wood alcohol and metal shavings had severely impaired him. “

  16. LaFlamme said,

    Yeah. Yeah, I can live with that. Also: “Though he went on to publish 50 acclaimed novels, LaFlamme was most noted for his investigation of a mutant animal found in the woods of Turner, Maine. LaFlamme’s last words were reported to be: ‘it was a dog.'”

  17. LaFlamme said,

    Also fine last words: “What th…”

  18. K2 said,

    No, you’re gonna get burned at the stake, for sure.

    Or poisoned by an editor.

  19. LaFlamme said,

    Poe’s last words: “God help my poor soul.”

  20. LaFlamme said,

    Poisoned, ay? In which case my last words would likely be: “Ack! Bastards! Ack!”

  21. LaFlamme said,

    PT Barnum’s last words: “How were the receipts today at Madison Square Garden?”

  22. LaFlamme said,

    (Chilling) last words of Lord Byron: “Now I shall go to sleep. Goodnight.”

  23. LaFlamme said,

    Chopin’s last words: “Swear to make them cut me open, so that I won’t be buried alive.”

  24. LaFlamme said,

    Noel Coward’s last utterance: “Goodnight my darlings, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

  25. LaFlamme said,

    Emily Dickison’s, also chilling: “I must go in, the fog is rising.”

  26. LaFlamme said,

    Mark LaFlamme’s last words at 3 p.m., Sept. 8, 2006. “I’ve gotta go to friggin work.”

  27. jarheaddoc said,

    FDR’s last words(with poetic license applied): “I have the most terrific headache”

  28. jarheaddoc said,

    Einstein’s last words were forever lost to history because the person at his bedside didn’t speak the same language.

  29. LaFlamme said,

    Einstein’s last words were likely: “Aha! I’ve got it! The key to unifying relativity with quantum mechanics is… GAAAACK!”

  30. LaFlamme said,

    “I have reached an age when, if someone tells me to wear socks, I don’t have to.” — Einstein

  31. K2 said,

    When Garcia woke form his diabetic coma in ’87, his first words were, ‘I am not Beethoven.’

  32. Linda said,

    Anybody still alive in here?

  33. Mainetarr said,

    I am alive, looking for Nadine. I wonder if she is finally sleeping?

  34. Mainetarr said,

    K2’s last words: “I thought those were MAGIC mushrooms.”

  35. AO said,

    No. K2’s last words would be: “Hand me my bong.”

  36. LaFlamme said,

    I’d like to think K2’s last words would be a parting shot at Gil.

  37. AO said,

    Hmm…Wonder what they’d be?

  38. Anonymous said,

    Gil, I thought they were magic mushrooms? Now hand me my fucking bong, you stubborn conservative fuck . . . *gasp* ——————————————————————————– (flat line, anyone?)

  39. K2 said,

    Oh, yeah, that was me. Deleted my cookies so I could get back into the SJ’s website, my bane of late. And now I have no access to the blogs — it’s asking me to log in, although the paid-e-subscription days are supposedly over — which is probably a good thing.

    If I had the time, I’d write a most scathing letter to the editor about how that paper has done practically everything it can to fucking piss me off.

    But I like to know my local news, so I continue to begrudgingly read on. Poor, poor me.

  40. Linda said,

    They probably wouldn’t answer you, K2

  41. Nadine said,

    MT: thanks! I got 4hrs of sleep last night, which is good considering I usually get 6…but, you know that already 🙂

    I want my last words to be: “i’m going to sleep now”


    Seriously though, I just wanna die in my sleep — but then again, doesn’t everyone? I better not have fucking insomnia THAT night dammit! How cruel would that be??!! Haha!

    “Local woman dies in her sleep from a bad case of insomnia”

    (WTF?? Did I really just write that? Oy Vey!).

    HA! Would be more like “local woman dies of insanity due to a bad case of insomnia” and my tombstone would read “May she REST in peace” !!!

    Mandy: My grandmother is 94yrs old and has, like, 30 pill containers filled with coins stashed all over her house as if it will “take care of us all” when she passes. She’s so friggin’ cute!

    And, yeah, my dad almost got raped by the damn funeral home when my mom died VERY unexpectedly 3yrs ago. Thankfully I work very well under pressure and helped with the decisions surrounding her arrangements.

    Finally (HA! Punny! Get it? “finally”? haha), anyway, I am glad to know that I am not the only one who cannot stand “our American” version of wakes and funerals — death is personal to those that loved them, why make a spectacle?

  42. Anonymous said,

    Just log back in, K2, and all will be fine once more.

  43. Nadine said,

    Oh, and to those who want that final moment of closure with the deceased and use the wake/funeral to do so…I respect that in every way. It’s just not for me.

  44. Nadine said,

    Ok, since everyone else here actually has a life on this fri evening — guess I’m gonna try and find the most boring movie I own and try to sleep. Night all!

    And MT: I’ll keep ya posted! Thanks again!

    Maybe I’ll watch Shindler’s list..it’s long, and definitely a downer! (Though Shindler is my hero!).

  45. LaFlamme said,

    Hey, no sign of the actual Mandy tonight?

  46. K2 said,

    Anonymous, nope, that doesn’t work. First off, my $70 e-subscription from last year recently ended. But I shouldn’t even need one now. Of course, I tried my old log-in data, but that doesn’t work, to no surprise.

    Not that I’m dying to read the SJs blogs, but I do check out Christine’s and Randy’s (the Royals beat the Sox at home? I know, it’s Theo’s fault) now and then. And occasionally to spew a little liberal venom in Our Viewski.

    Right onski.

    My buddy does that. Throws ‘ski’ onto the end of the last word, for no good reason at all. Me likeski.

  47. Mandy, the obit writer said,

    I’m back, sort of. I’m feeling quite ill but I wanted to post another update. The man’s mother is still alive.

  48. K2 said,

    I thought I smelled vomit in here.

  49. LaFlamme said,

    Yeah. And what’s with the ginger ale, tissues and spent popsicle sticks? Gack! It’s a sick room.

  50. LaFlamme said,

    I’ll be the first to admit that the SJ site is infuriating. The log on system has always been troublesome. I can’t fathom how many viewers we’ve probably lost because of it. Cleaning the cache is a pain in the ass because of the cookies thing, but it shouldn’t completely mess up registration information. I’m glad you made it back in here, anyway.
    PS… Christine kicks my ass on a daily basis. I try to smart mouth her every day and every day she has a much wittier reporter. She and Flamette together are completely demasculinating.

  51. K2 said,

    Not to mention the utterly defiled Mel Tillis records scattered about. Disgust-ti-ti-ti-ti-ing.

    Yes, dominatrixes will do that to a man. I mean a lactating he-she. Well, eunuchs are people too.

    And LaFlamme: What? No triumphant Royal-speak?!? Maybe the locals should root for the Sox’s plane to crash? Randy, help me make sense out of all this, brother. . . .

  52. Linda said,

    Don’t get him started with the Royals. Please.

    Didn’t Randy say he’d rather they tanked during the 5 game Yankees series than keep stringing us along? Talk about be careful what you wish for …

  53. AO said,

    K2, how dare you think we would root for that!?!? I’m keeping the faithski. I’m no fair weather fanski. Seeski???

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