Awkward Obits

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

When Leona Helmsley died last week, it was a moment for some confused mourning. After all, the woman was a powerhouse (read: diva), but was also caught saying some particularly vile things about the progressive tax. One wonders what her eulogy was like; how do you properly eulogize such a difficult woman? I am related to some particularly difficult — yet beloved — women myself*, and they were remembered honestly at their funerals... something I particularly like. In fact, Jewish tradition demands that a eulogy be honest; it should paint an honest portrait of the deceased, and reflect the realities of their life. It got us thinking: what's the best way to eulogize someone whose humanity might have been — shall we say, particularly aggressive — in their life?

*I'm sure you're all shocked.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Nationl Lampoon had a great article in 1975 on this subject-- "23 Ways to be offensive at the funeral of someone you didn't like" by Ed Bluestone.

1 Offer $10,000 to the person who can draw the best mustache on the deceased.
2 Stick peace-sign decals all over the coffin.
3 Congratulate the deceased parents on outliving him.
4 Listen to the baseball game on a transistor radio and react loudly to every pitch.
5 Start telling the widow an old army story about you, the deceased, and two girls in Shanghai.
6 Keep asking everyone if they saw the previous evening's Johnny Carson show.
7 Keep remarking that you're having a good time, but Louis Armstrong did have Peggy Lee at his funeral.
8 Stand around at the cemetery saying, 'At least now he'll no longer be tormented over being impotent'
9 Tell everyone that they can either stay at the funeral or come over to your house and see something terrific involving a belly dancer and a Great Dane.
10 Stand up at the funeral service and announce that you've purchased a new car.
11 Show up at the cemetery in swim trunks, diving mask, and flippers and announce that you're going swimming right after the funeral.
12 Walk up to the casket and start comparing the size of the deceased's clothes to your own.
13 Show up at the cemetery with your Doberman pinscher, and just as the casket is being lowered have him play dead.
14 Stay home and call the funeral parlor saying that the deceased has just won the state lottery, but since he's dead the money goes to the Defense Department.
15 Immediately after the eulogy, stand up and propose to the widow.
16 Tell the clergyman that the deceased was a vampire and ask if you can drive a stake through his heart.
17 Pass out baby pictures of the deceased.
18 Shake the widow's hand with an electric buzzer.
19 Have representatives of the eye hank show up, say they're too late, and demand the widow's eyes.
20 Show up at the cemetery masqueraded as the deceased.
21 Show up at the cemetery masqueraded as the widow and claim that she's a phony.
22 On the way home from the cemetery, tell the widow that you're not sure, but you think that you saw the body move.
23 The day after the funeral, send the widow a candygram from the deceased.

Sent by Mike | 2:52 PM | 8-29-2007

When my husband's cantankerous grandpa died a few years ago, the only music the family could come up with that both reflected his life and could still be played at a family funeral was "I Did It My Way"!

Sent by Eileen Terril | 2:55 PM | 8-29-2007

I have noticed that the media always finds a way to avoid the "dirty" aspects of the lives of political or famous people when they die. I cringe to think how the death of Henry Kissinger will be handled.

Sent by Ramin | 2:57 PM | 8-29-2007

On a bank sponsored trip to a MLB game we met at a hotel near an interstate to board a bus.
While in the urinal preparing for the trip the county Sheriff was standing next to me and he mentioned that they had found in a trunk of a car the body of a somewhat well known individual with whom I had done business. I told the Sheriff it could not have happened to a nicer guy. The Sheriff looked at me in shock. He said it took a great deal of time to find a suspect. Every person they questioned had nearly the same response as me.

Sent by David Mihelic | 3:05 PM | 8-29-2007

Thank you for having Ann Wroe as the guest expert on the subject of obituaries. I have been a subscriber to The Economist for many years and have always enjoyed (if that is the proper word for it) the obituaries they print. They are thoughtful, insightful, occasionally funny and always meaningful. Whether it was a famous person, an infamous leader or a regular person who did something extraordinary the obituaries are handled with grace and class.

Sent by Eric | 3:05 PM | 8-29-2007

Just listened to your program, and wanted to comment about the difficulty of being a hospice nurse when you know that the client was less than perfect. While listening, your writer's comment about the "blackest of persons" upset me greatly. Being black, I feel likened to evil, greed and badness in contect of the conversation. I know it is all in the grammer, and she did not refer to race, but it is difficult being black and hearing these comments and not feel contaminated in some way. I look forward to the day when the language can allow all of us to enjoy a program without walking away upset.

Sent by Lydia Julius | 3:16 PM | 8-29-2007

Helmsley will: $12M trust for dog, nothing for 2 grandkids"

now THAT'S awkward.

Sent by tim | 3:21 PM | 8-29-2007

Does anyone know the name of the artist and/or song played at the end of this show? It was a woman singing a somewhat Celtic song. It doesnt show up on the website.

Sent by Bill Harkins | 10:38 PM | 8-30-2007

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from