The Not-So-Final Word

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Yesterday, the New York Post breathlessly reported on the wording of an obituary for a perpetrator of a mass shooting.

As the Post described it, the obituary described the 24-year-old male shooter as “a happy suburban man who loved reading Harry Potter, camping with the Boy Scouts and playing baritone sax in the school marching band.”

The obituary mentioned nothing about him killing multiple people, including his sister, when he opened fire in a nightclub.

His sister’s obituary, posted on the same funeral home website, did not mention that she was murdered by her brother, just that she had died.

Both obituaries brought about a torrent of angry comments and disgusted reactions from the online world. Eventually, the funeral home replaced the shooter’s original obituary with these words.

“Stephen and Moira Betts apologize that the wording of the obituary for their son Connor was insensitive in not acknowledging the terrible tragedy that he created. In their grief, they presented the son that they knew, which in no way reduces the horror of his last act. We are deeply sorry. “

As a friend texted me, “Shit, the whole thing is just tragic. All of it.”

All of it.

As an obituary writer, I treasure the time spent with families as they share stories about their loved one. The sharing and remembering is cathartic for them, and helps me formulate a true depiction of the departed person’s life, with poignant, everlasting details intact.

I imagine the family of this shooter experienced a bit of that catharsis while describing the child they loved to the funeral director who wrote this obituary.

But what happened next? Should those words of love have been put away, to be read in private? How would those words affect the families of those murdered? Whose responsibility was it to think this through before it was posted online? Was it okay to post it? Did someone miss the boat here?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I welcome you to weigh in.

It’s an unpleasant, unwanted new avenue we need to explore, as American citizens in 2019.

Your comment is welcome.

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