Lunch, or it could be dinner, merienda, or Botox high tea. Whatever and wherever two or more women (or gays) gather, and we happen to be there and catch the zeitgeist. (Ok, gossip.) That is what the Ladies Who Lunch column is.
“She’s not in the obit?!” exclaimed our lunchmate, looking up from the text message.
“That’s not right,” she added. “She’s still the legal wife.”
Obviously she was talking about an obituary—just out that morning in the dailies—of a family patriarch. The list of the names of the children and their spouses, and of the grandchildren, omitted one name—that of one son’s wife. The couple had just split up. And the son has been and still is with another woman.
Obituaries in this town—or anywhere else for that matter—make an interesting barometer of society, especially high society. They tell you—in between the lines, sometimes—the state of a family/clan’s well-being, or its state of dysfunction, and which family doesn’t suffer from some degree of dysfunction?
My colleagues in my former office (eons ago) would get amused seeing how I would start my day reading the obit, and in my mind, playing out various scenarios about the deceased and his/her family. It breaks your heart when the deceased is so young; you cannot imagine how the parents must be grieving.
Or, you read all kinds of terms or tags of endearment—the nicknames and aka’s known only to kin—-and you feel like you’re peeking into a very private familial space.
Or, you see a photo of the deceased taken, like, a century ago. That kind of sets you off, but then you say, give it to the family—that’s how they want to remember the dear departed.
Then there are the exes, the separated spouses, the mistresses, the lifelong companions, the same-gender partnerships. That’s the tricky part.
More and more, the same-gender relationships are assuming legitimacy, even in the obit. You can only admire the straightforwardness—the honesty—-of the family that acknowledges the same-gender partner of their departed son or brother, regardless of how society will react.
But the girlfriend? Very seldom do you come across a family that puts the name of a deceased’s partner. Usually, families put the deceased’s legal spouse, no matter that they had been separated for almost a lifetime.
That was why, years ago, Manila sat up in odd admiration when the family of a tycoon put not only the name of the tycoon’s ex-wife, the beloved mother of his children, but also, at the end of the obit, the name of his girlfriend who was with him until he breathed his last, and identified her as his “longtime companion.”
Now, that was gracious of the family, high society said. That was class, many said.
That raised the bar for high-society obits, where gentility was concerned.
Now back to my lunchmates, who continued to fume over what they felt was a tasteless denial of the legitimate wife.
“It’s not her, really; they should have thought of the children,” said one. “She’s still their mother. So she should have been acknowledged as such.”
Another lunch-ee had a better idea. “Or if they really don’t want to acknowledge her as the wife, they could have just included her name in the enumeration of the deceased’s children, or run it immediately before the names of her children.”
Then another—apparently detached from the “War of the Roses”—said, “So I guess that means her separation from her husband’s family wasn’t amiable?” Or amicable. (Told you obits could be a tell-all.)
The woman, who brought up the topic in the first place, then said, “What we would have wanted to see was to let the dignity of the dead stay above the fray; that the family didn’t let the son’s broken marriage taint their grieving.”
Well, how else can you add to that?
Yes, dignity above anything else. Knowing your social graces certainly helps. That, and how the family of the departed follows its heart.
In other words, leave the knives and forks at the dining table; don’t bring them over to the obit.