At times even a brief, almost trivial human interest story nonetheless reminds us of the depths to be plumbed when it comes to the human psyche, and the twists it’s capable of.
In the small town of Murphy, North Carolina, an obituary for an elderly lady, June Miller, stunned those who read it. It was far from laudatory, in fact asserted that “drugs were a major love in her life as June had no hobbies, made no contribution to society, and rarely shared a kind word or deed in her life.” The obit writer went on to say “we speak for the majority of her family when we say her presence will not be missed by many, very few tears will be shed, and there will be no lamenting over her passing.”
Interestingly, much of the same content and wording appeared in another obituary some nine years earlier, published across the continent in California. Are we on the trail of that odd creature we might term a serial nasty obit writer, or did the writer from the east coast simply come across the bitter example and feel it also described June Miller to a tee?
Naturally, for family and a local gossip community, the case quickly becomes a whodunit. The writer seems to claim a direct family pedigree when he or she asserts “all of us will really only miss what we never had–a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.” Even if all the tart commentary was built upon truth, who would rain on the tradition of obituary that way, in the process offending anyone who disagrees?
Miller’s son Robert Miller Jr., for one, was wounded by what he read and found the episode “sad.”
“It’s unbelievable that someone would write this,” he lamented. “She was a loving generous woman.”
We assert that the more important mystery is not who submitted the offending words to the paper, but why? What purpose is served by character assassination of the deceased? We probably learn more from the piece about the living writer than the dead woman, although precisely what stands as a thorny question.
The author had asked that June Miller’s life serve “as a cautionary tale.” Perhaps the tradition of polite praise for the dead owes to foolish convention, when the event might serve as an excellent trigger for candor, and for teachable moments. But isn’t any real candor accompanied by the identity of the speaker, by owning the sentiments?
We are left with a mystery of the human psyche. The deceased may have been a flawed woman, in life. What direction is the life of the writer taking, is he or she bitter, or now unburdened? Do they move forward with more of June Miller inside them than they wish to recognize? We can only deduce the contours of their psyche, because the mystery of human character is the deepest of all, by far.