You may start seeing more of this kind of post, now that I’m over 70.
But my concern here grows out of something that’s bothered me for decades.
When Carl Weathers died several days ago, The New York Times reported:
His family said in a statement that he “died peacefully in his sleep.” The statement did not give a cause or say where he died.
Come on, people! How did he die?
This kind of thing has bothered me since my earliest days in the newspaper racket. When somebody dies, the cause of death should be right there in the lede. Especially in news stories, but also in obits. This is particularly the case in people who die young.
I see a person who looks about 20 in a photo with an obit, and the first thing I think is, “Maybe it’s an old picture.” Then, when I see it isn’t, I think, “What happened?”
I mean, don’t you? But too often, you’re told nothing. Or maybe, just maybe, the family will request donations to a fund that fights a deadly disease, and at least you have a hint.
And yeah, sometimes I can understand people not wanting to say, if there’s something about the cause — say, suicide or a drug overdose — that makes an excruciating tragedy even worse, and loved ones don’t want to see it in print. But I gather that lots of people simply don’t want to say, whatever the cause is. It has to do with a notion of privacy which I don’t understand.
In fact, I’ve long wished newspapers would refuse to run obits unless the cause of death is stated. That’s never going to happen, since obits are now ads, and organizations as desperate for revenue as our beleaguered newspapers aren’t going to give up a stream of revenue. And back when newsrooms handled them, it still didn’t happen because editors saw obits as a basic public service — you had to reported who had died in the community. But if you ask me, telling readers what’s killing the people around them is a pretty fundamental kind of public service.
But it didn’t bother me so much when people were old. And back when I first cared about obits, I would have seen 76 as old. Of course, I’m wiser than that now (that’s only six years older than I am!), but it still wouldn’t have occurred to me to wonder in this case, until I saw this story this morning in The Boston Globe.
It was about the fact that a Super Bowl ad featuring Weathers is still going to run during the game. Which makes me think, hey: He was healthy enough to shoot a commercial recently, so… he wasn’t wasting away with a fatal disease — that anyone knew, anyway.
Maybe it was a stroke. I know from personal experience how those can sneak up on you (although I was very lucky with mine).
But I’d still like to know. I mean, the guy was only 76…