An Obituary That Proved Erroneous
As an obituary writer in my previous newspaper life, I took great satisfaction at perusing the day’s death notices and picking out one for a memorial tribute.
I upheld this tradition for years with the Haverhill Gazette, where I worked four decades. Of all my beats—sports, community reporting, features, columns, photography—nothing meant more to me than getting an obit right.
Not that I’m a morbid person by any stretch. I realize how important it is to the survivors. Much too often, it’s the one chance for the deceased to shine, even if it’s being done posthumously.
And I’ll tell you this much. In more cases than not, the ordinary citizen has more to relate than the VIPs of our communities because they are honest, humble, and quite inhibited about their accomplishments.
Over the years, I’ve written some memorable accounts. One I’d love to retrieve came about six months into my job. Some sadist called to report an obituary, disguised his voice, gave the name of a funeral home, and pulled a prank on his neighbor. It was his idea of a bad joke.
Well, that afternoon, in comes the “deceased” to say he was very much alive and enjoying his walk downtown. A retraction the next day left egg all over my face and a smile with the victim. From that day on, experience taught me to check back with the funeral home—just in case there were other boneheads out there willing to pull the same nonsense.
There we were in Florida a few months ago, touring a Claude Monet exhibit at an art gallery when my wife’s cell phone goes off. I don’t carry such a device, happy to say. She handles both our calls. The jingle just about jarred everyone in the room, prompting the security guard to intervene.
“Sorry, m’am. No cell phones allowed in this room,” he said. “You’ll have to take the call outside in the lobby.”
All of a sudden, just like that, Nancy broke into hysterics with the sad news. A friend called to say that a very close friend of ours living in Detroit had passed.
We had just spoken to Harry Derderian a few days prior and were in his company during a reunion of mutual friends. We were both distraught by the news.
“Well, he lived to a ripe old age,” the caller resumed. “We should all live well into our 90s.”
Whoa, back up a minute. 90s? The victim was 92?”
The Harry Derderian I’ve known for the past 55 years is my age. We grew up together in the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) when he was living in the Springfield-Indian Orchard area. We attended conferences and conventions together.
I watched him win several tennis championships in the AYF Olympics. I knew the woman he married. Our kids were their kids, and quite the reverse. To say we were fraternal brothers was putting it mildly.
Right name, wrong person.
But here’s the irony. Turns out that both Harry Derderians were from the same community, attended the same church at St. Sarkis, and sat down for coffee at the same table following services. No, Harry the elder did not play tennis but talked a good game.
So, a notice hits the internet saying Harry Derderian died without getting into particulars and people throughout the country went into instant bereavement, thinking it was Harry the younger. Most did not know of an older namesake who had moved to Ohio but then returned to Detroit.
“A tennis chum called and said he realized it wasn’t me after reading the notice, but wanted to say how glad he was that I was OK,” said Derderian. “People saw my name but didn’t notice the posted age.”
Many years ago, I was attending an Armenian Olympics when word arrived that a John Melconian had passed. I knew John from my visits to Portland, Maine, and we have mutual friends as well. I broke down and mourned his loss.
Because he was a community activist and a catalyst with the Armenian National Committee from that region, we asked for a moment of silence during the opening ceremonies.
After all the formalities had been rendered and memorial tributes made, in comes John Melconian to the social events, not knowing that he had been eulogized only hours before inside a stadium full of people.
Like Mark Twain had once said, “Reports of my death are deeply exaggerated.”
Turns out the Melconian was no way connected to another who spelled his name “Melkonian” and lived in the Worcester area.
It all adds up to one summation. Quite often, it’s not the loss of life that makes death bitter. It’s the obituaries.
Source: Armenian Weekly
Link: An Obituary That Proved Erroneous