24 September 2012


Obituaries, especially the kind that run in the backs of alumni magazines, or as paid notices in the good grey lady, tend to a certain formality.

Obituary: A notice of a death, esp. in a newspaper, typically including a brief biography of the deceased person.

They tend towards platitudes and encomiums, and dry recitations of surviving family members. The cause of death is often mentioned, except when the dear departed has committed suicide. Then, it's delicately omitted, except perhaps in the cases of famous celebrity types, where the cause of death is part of the news of the death. I was, therefore, dumbstruck by an obituary I read in my college alumnae magazine:

Jane Doe put an end to her life on __/__/20__, leaving many speechless.

No, I didn't know her. But I too was left speechless - both because of the bluntness of the message and the editorializing in its conveyance.


Kizz said...

It's weird but in the end it's the truth and I support that in death notices. I guess that might make me kind of callous but...the truth. You know?

readersguide said...

On the other hand, I have to say that when they don't say, I always wonder.

YourFireAnt said...

"Died suddenly" used to be newspaper code for suicide.


One Mom said...

Maggie, I'm sorry you had to read such a blunt announcement, about an alumna. On the other hand, I'm of the mind that it is a step forward from suicide being unmentionable. And to say that the person put an end to her life is also better than using the word "committed" which brings to mind a crime.

I cut the writer some slack on the editorializing as I assume the writer knew the person. As someone who has survived the suicides of my uncle and my father, it does leave survivors speechless. It's an unpleasant mix of shame, shock, hurt, and guilt. And I think people expect that those close will have seen it coming. The writer probably felt the need to convey a lack of awareness about this person's suffering.

Perhaps the newsletter editors should have stepped in and made it fit the style of other obituaries, and I don't doubt it was jarring. If you choose to write your school, you might want to refer them to guidelines for reporting on suicide like these: http://reportingonsuicide.org/Recommendations2012.pdf


edj3 said...

I must be ultra dense because I don't see any editorializing. I do see a factual report that the woman killed herself which surprised many.

Agree with One Mom, breaking the silence (and stigma) about suicide is worth doing.

Anon said...

We all need to state our wishes with regard to our death; healthcare proxy should be final arbiter.

Sudden, unexpected, means heart attack (?)

I like when the cause of death is listed, but your alumni mag's account was inflammatory and invasive.



Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

That is definitely jarring.

Carol Bodensteiner said...

My sister killed herself five years ago. The shock of losing someone you care about this way is not easy to describe. Having been in her shoes, I cut the obituary writer as much slack as she needs. Personally I think "ended her life" is a gentle way to phrase it. Thanks to Laura for the link to ways to report a suicide.

Jocelyn said...

I feel like I'm being tough and blunt and unfeeling in my reaction, which is one of appreciation that the reporter of this event was willing to be honest and release the reading audience from a state of wondering. Then again, I'm someone who's constantly frustrated by obituaries because they seem to leave out the ending. They chronicle the journey, but they don't tell me the ending. I wan to know, no matter what it is. The absence of details about the death feels very MAD MEN to me--very of my mom's era, where no fine point was put on anything painful or real. I'd rather just know.

Put another way: hmmmmmmmmmmmm. Very interesting post.

leanne said...

It's interesting. When I first read the obituary, my initial thought was "Wow." Very blunt indeed. But then after reading some of the above comments and rereading the words again, I saw another side... one in which the author was deeply saddened by the death and was really and truly at a loss for words and wasn't writing to lash out about the suicide, but merely expressing the truth (and their pain) in the only way he or she could. Or put another way, on my first read the author seems bitter; on the second read, the author seems just sad and lost. (And yet, I still lean towards the more bitter interpretation.)