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It's All Relative

Patricia Sullivan

The "survivors paragraph" in a typical Washington Post obit is fairly rigidly formatted, and for good reason: It's quite common for people, who define family broadly, to seek to include what my grandmother called "shirt-tail relations." It's also unfortunately common for some people to try to exclude a family rival, black sheep or ungrateful sibling.

Families have never been as neat and defined as society tries to believe, however; grandparents raise the children of their own missing children, cousins grow up in an uncle's household, a neighbor takes in a stray child and is more of a mother to her than her biological mother.

But the world is changing and as I read this Ellen Goodman column, I mused on how an obit writer in the future will deal with the gender-changing parents, the surrogate mother who's really a grandmother, and the brother or sister who becomes the sister or brother.

By Patricia Sullivan |  July 15, 2008; 11:48 AM ET  | Category:  Patricia Sullivan
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