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Dying Honestly – Removing The Stigma Of The Obituary

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Being record-keepers of sorts for our connected communities, we at NEWS24-680 encounter death and the implications of a dying on the living – almost every day.

As examiners of the Human Condition and as humans ourselves many of these deaths have stayed with us over the years: the name of a friend killed in a traffic accident conveyed during a routine check with a coroner; the perfect son and student escaping his demons with a bullet through his brain; the perfect husband and father stepping into his garage and quietly looping a rope around a sturdy beam.

Once the dead leave us it’s left to the living, of course, to characterize their time on earth: “loving father and husband...” “brilliant career in engineering ahead of him…” “she embraced life as she embraced her love of dance…”

All true, of course, and certainly soothing for those left behind. But what gets left out in most of these cases is “The Why” as families, eager to put the true cause of death behind them, close ranks and wrap themselves in the healing cloak of time.

Others, however, are choosing not to worry about any Victorian-era finger-pointing, neighborhood whispers or assumed family stigma – they are openly sharing the cause of their loved one’s death, shining a light on it in fact, to better understand their reasoning and fully punctuate the details of their lives.

In Ohio, the parents of an 18-year-old girl flatly attributed her death to “heroin overdose,” and told an Associated Press reporter they “did not hesitate” when it came time to pen her obituary.

“There was no hesitation,” Dorothy Shuemake said. “We’ve seen other deaths when it’s heroin, and the families don’t talk about it because they’re ashamed or they feel guilty. Shame doesn’t matter right now…”

 

 

Dorothy and her husband, a retired police detective, decided to honestly address the scourge of heroin abuse currently raking their community, and which ultimately claimed their daughter, in her obit. Their decision to call out the problem – instead of touching off a modern equivalent of small-town tongue wagging – inspired a massive outpouring of support, both locally and on social media, with approving commentary and emails from around the world.

Putting a face on the problem ultimately proved therapeutic for the family of Alison Shuemake and drew additional attention to the proliferation of hard drugs in her suburban community. Before they approved release of their daughter’s obituary they called the family of Alison’s live-in boyfriend to ask their blessing – which they gave.

A few days later another obituary appeared with news of yet another casualty of the local heroin epidemic. This time it was Luther Combs – Alison’s boyfriend – and it read: “Luther David Combs, 31, of Middletown, passed away Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015, of a heroin overdose.”

 

8 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t think obituaries much represent truth. But advocating truth is a slippery slope to go down. Where do you stop? Last year, I read the obituary of someone I used to work with. Truth be told, he was a real S.O.B. and the world (or at least my world) is a better place without him. The obituary went on and on about how wonderful he was. Not true. Do you advocate space for rebuttals on obits? I could have written quite a nice rebuttal on that baloney.

    • Any obituary appearing on NEWS24-680 would be open to commentary, yes. Ours will undoubtedly appear here and we’ll write them in advance to ensure maximum candor and transparency. Our deepest regret, aside from missing our own wake, is that we won’t be around to read what people really think of us…

  2. For those who do want to write your own obit, please leave instructions on where to find it in a very obvious place. We went through that process and created an obit, only finding out later that the person had written their own. It was well hidden in a filing cabinet. Our poor attempt at writing one was only a shadow of what that person had done in life.

  3. I can think of at least three cases locally in the last year where the circumstances were quietly forgotten. I can see where that would help the family, but it may not address the central issue be it addiction or depression or financial problems. May be things will change.

  4. I understand obituaries are meant to be respectful, but I don’t like any of them. The annoying long winded “perfect member of society” with a picture from 60 years ago. To the short “here’s the date, please show up.” I don’t think it’s anybody’s business what someone did or didn’t do with their life, nor is it anyone’s business what they died of.

  5. Ive told my family to keep my obituary very simple.

    He liked Pina Coladas
    And getting caught in the rain.
    He was not into yoga.
    He had half brain.

    That’s it. Nothing else.

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