Thursday, February 16, 2006

First Rule of Obit Writing, Part II

Speaking of which, I read a short story called "Mortals" by Tobias Wolff about a newspaper obit writer who fails to confirm an obit with the family or the funeral home. The result is about what you might expect, except with a twist. I found it in a book of Wolff's short stories at the library.

1 comment:

Alana Baranick said...

I'm having trouble verifying a death in New York City. I'm fairly confident the woman is dead. I just can't verify it.

The dead woman's niece contacted me to ask that we write an obit or at least include the woman's name in our free list of recent Cleveland-related deaths.

It was a body donation. Instead of finding out who got the body, the niece gave me the phone number of the dead woman's son in New York.

I believe the son is a senior citizen and has cerebral palsy. Whatever the case, I had difficulty understanding him. I suspect the niece has the same problem with him and that's why she didn't get the information for me.

But it was clear that the son could not say specifically, "Mom's body went to Insert-Name-Here Medical College or Body Collection Agency." The son and the niece kept using that old phrase, "She donated her body to science."

The son had some kind of paperwork regarding the donation from the City of New York Department of Mental Health and Hygiene.

I contacted that department. The telephone operators sent me to a long line of different offices, including public relations - because I made the mistake of identifying myself as a reporter.

I finally ended up with the organ-and-tissue donor office. The person there told me that the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene doesn't have a body donation office. And because the woman died at Einstein Medical Center, I should contact the Einstein Medical School.

I finally got the body donation department there. I've been playing phone tag with a man who apparently is the only person in his office. I left the woman's name, date of death and location of death. The body-donation guy left a message for me saying he has no record of this woman's death.

I left another message for him in hopes he could refer me to some other body donation place. But the whole time I'm thinking, "This is New York. I'll bet there are dozens of body collectors in the big city."

I also left a message for the son. I'm hoping I can get more information from him.

While I've been waiting to hear back from them, I checked Social Security Deaths. Although she's been dead since Jan. 31 - which allows for plenty of time for her death to show up - her name is not there.

It's my guess that I was not given her correct surname. Her name as it was given to me is the same as her son's surname. I'll bet she was married again later in life and, although she may have been known by her first married name, she probably didn't die with it.

To tell the truth, the niece is probably the only one who cares about having the dearly departed's death announced in Cleveland. The woman spent part of her youth in my neck of the woods. She's been gone from Northeast Ohio since around 1940.