Irony in the Obits - Pragmatic vs Delusional

My friend Jenny sent me two obituaries from her local California paper today. I've never had to write an obit, but I am pretty sure they charge by the line.

Here is the first one at the top of the page:

I've never seen an obit that was so brief. It makes you think the paper charges by the word, not just the line. 

Now, here is the second one, with my highlights of the interesting parts. How ironic that these were right next to each other! It makes me think the obit editor had a sense of humor and wanted to show the play of irony:

At a Winter Solstice party on Saturday, we all toasted to Christopher Hitchens with some Johnny Walker Black. One of my friends commented that we should have toasted to him when he was alive instead, and I agree, except I think most of us did celebrate Hitchens the whole time we knew him. And I think it's appropriate to be sad when someone we love dies. There's no reason we can't do both.

Do you think Mrs. Luisa Ruiz Naranjo was loved more than Lillian Hobson? There's no way to know now, I guess. Does paying more for an elaborate obit mean you're more loved? I doubt it.

Anyway, I've never seen obits like either of these before. The first doesn't say anything (was the price by the letter?) and the second is a novelette.

Naranjo was "gently scooped up by Angels and Saints at the Lord's command and entrusted into His loving arms to reside with Him in joy and happiness in the Kingdom of Paradise-Heaven, forever and ever. After eleven and a half years of suffering and no "why me?", he lovingly accepted His faithful servant who never once wavered in her faith in Him. Her life was dedicated, entrusted to Him while she roamed the Earth and this time she passed onto her children.
I found this fascinating. I am under the impression that her daughter Rafaela wrote this vivid imagery of her mother's death. I wonder if she believes what she wrote?

And if God loved Luisa so much, why did he let her suffer painfully for 11.5 years? That seems cruel to someone who seemed so devout.

Apparently Luisa "enjoyed a quest for knowledge" which seems odd to me. The only thing I can guess is that it was a quest to know more about God, Jesus and the rest of that mythology. My definition of knowledge and hers would be drastically different.

I do love this last part; " Memorial contributions are suggested to the American Heart Association. That's wonderful.

As an atheist, even though I've recently read a lot about belief and how it seems to work, I am still baffled by faith. The cognitive dissonance needed to sustain faith over a lifetime is intense, although I guess you'd become very skilled at confirmation bias and making excuses for your invisible, fire breathing dragon in your garage, and why you are the only one who can experience him.

I remember ruefully this one time I was with a friend of mine, about 12 years ago. This was when I was an atheist but still "very spiritual" and believed in a cosmic consciousness.

We were standing by a brackish river not far from where it connected to the Atlantic Ocean and my friend said, "Look! I can see a blue glow in the water! Look! It's right there!" Her arm swept out to the right and she seemed very moved by her vision.

I suddenly felt lonely and wanted desperately to be accepted by her, to be "in" instead of an outsider. So I got excited and said, "I see it! It's so beautiful!" and waded out into the warm water and tried to will myself to see what she said was there. I wanted to be connected to the Universe, to something magical, to my friend.

I have no idea if she was just lying, or if she really had a hallucination of some sort, or if she knew I was lying. It was a very sad experience.

But it was very telling. Abraham Lincoln said, ‎"The only person who is a worse liar than a faith healer is his patient."

Perhaps the same can be said for the religious. To say the least, it wouldn't surprise me if somewhere deep down they don't doubt their delusional beliefs, especially since the only evidence they could have ever have is so illusory and anecdotal.

Of course, most people don't realize that anecdotal evidence is extremely weak or downright untrustworthy, even from ourselves. That's something that we learn in science; Don't trust your senses. But in religion, you are taught to rely mainly on your inner experience.

I hope these two women were loved and cherished while they were alive. I hope they had good lives, full of love and happiness. And I hope Luisa's daughter didn't spend her hard-earned money for this effusive and loquacious tribute to assuage her guilt.

Update: I talked to Jenny who said Lillian Hobson didn't have anything else following up. That was her real obit. The whole thing. Apparently in her paper, you get the first 3 or 4 lines for free. After that it's by the line.


  1. In my paper, a very brief obit (like the first one here) is printed the first day after someone dies. Then, usually the next day, a longer obit with details is printed - it gives the family a little more time to put something together. That could be the case here too.

  2. Thanks, Marcia! I didn't know that.

  3. Hey Marcia, I talked to Jenny who checked every day for me. Lillian didn't have any other obit. That was the whole thing for her.

  4. This is delusional, at best. Bill Maher doesn't know, and me with my MA in Pastoral Studies (I use the other courses in my work-I won't be made a monkey's uncle/aunt by religion)does not know what happens when we die.Having said that, death is difficult to deal with on many levels, and dealing with it ala Kubler-Ross isn't neat and packaged up! People need to tell themselves whatever to get through it, even if its nonsense!All I know is if it was good enough for my dad, it'll be ok for me; something I can (have no choice) about doing.

  5. Hm, I guess that's one way to look at it, Anon. But I think I'd agree with Carl Sagan who said "better the hard truth" than the comforting lie.

  6. Oh,I agree with Sagan, no doubt, because he essentially says to face the reality. 'Soft-soaping' only does just that-it momentarily shields us from the hard cold facts when we're overwhelmed, but I know when my dear dad died, I was overwhelmed immmediately;I think I would have slapped the shit out of anyone who said "he's in a better place". As it is, my aunt (his sister) shook her finger at me and said 'now don't you cry'.Fck that shit! It hurts and it sucks to lose someone you love, but its part of the deal.

  7. hi, Marianne.
    I've never heard the term 'soft-soaping' but I think I understand the gist of it.

    I've been quite fortunate that I haven't had anyone very close to me die – yet, but I agree with you, I think I'd want to slap someone if they tried to feed me some bullshit fairytale. The most comfort someone could offer me at such a painful time would be to remind me of the good times we had together, and the good memories I have now, as well as have them offer tangible comfort during my time of need.

    What you're aunt said is a little too harsh and unrealistic. We all need to grieve, and of course, we all have our own ways to do so. Maybe your aunt didn't need to cry – or was afraid to let herself – but of course it doesn't mean it was right for you to be admonished in such a fashion.

  8. Neece-
    I think that 'soft-soaping'(a metaphor of sorts) merely means to make something that's hard feel soft; losing a person or a pet is neither.
    I also like the tone of the series,SIX FEET UNDER, where they deal with the realities (most of them do) daily;no hiding from the gas-passing corpse in the 'meat-wagon'.They have emphasized the need to beat on the casket, wail, and scream, which of course, in our PERFECT society, is unacceptable (not to me!)
    My aunt hated my father;probably a little loved mixed in from childhood-the issue was money, which of course always/generally divides.

    1. Yes, soft-soaping is what I figured. I've never heard it before.
      Eesh, yeah, money makes things so ugly, doesn't it? That being said, I'd rather have it than not. :P