Have you seen the recent article about the New Jersey man whose wife and girlfriend each published an obituary for him? They ran side by side in the local paper. You can read about it at this link.
It's clear that Leroy Black was greatly loved by a lot of people and that they had different truths and different stories they want (and need) to tell about that. I'm praying for those people, who lost a man just four years older than me to lung cancer.
The story particularly struck me because in my new retirement I've been spending time on Ancestry.com, and it's absolutely stunning how much is there now, compared to about five years ago, especially in terms of records and photos. I found a picture of my maternal great-grandfather. This is Charles Culbreath, 1871 - 1943. He has a very look of my grandmother in his eyes and mouth.
I also found a Word document uploaded by someone (perhaps a relative of mine) that included an undated story from the Sumter County (FL) Times about his service on the Board of County Commissioners:
He was married in this county (few words are not legible) to Hattie Barren and they have made a comfortable and happy home about halfway between Sumterville and Bushnell. Charlie is a factor in politics in Sumter County, he never hesitates to roll up his sleeves and work with vim for whatever cause he believes to be right.
In the same document, his obituary is reproduced, which reads in part:
Due to the fact that he has lived in this county for nearly 60 years, he was known by many people and had many friends in all sections of this county and over the state.
Mr. Culbreath will be greatly missed by his many friends, as he was always very lively and had a word for every one. He was a kind and big hearted man, always ready to do anything, anytime or a friend in need.
The obituary goes on to list his surviving widow and six grown children, including my grandmother, and the entry finishes: "Our sympathy is extended to the bereaved family in their hour of sorrow."
Sounds standard. But when I read it, I gasped because: Charles Culbreath did not live with his family at the time of his death, and I don't think any of them were sorry for his passing. His wife had put him out many years before. My grandmother despised him. She hadn't seen him for years when he died, and she didn't want to go to his funeral or have anything to do with it; my grandfather insisted. My grandmother would never talk about it, but it's obvious that some very bad things happened to her in association with the man. She was a deeply scarred person.
I called my grandmother "Meme." She loved family history and made huge scrapbooks for her daughters with copies of family records. Her father is listed and pictured, as a fact. You would not know, if you looked at the scrapbook, that things were any different from the normal in that family, just as you would not know it from the obituary.
And this is the story that I know about it, which I know from my mother, who is now 84. She knows a different version of this story, and so did my grandmother and her siblings, and so did Charles.
It points out to me how the truth is an absolute, but the stories we tell and hear and remember about it vary infinitely because we all own some part of it: our own truth.
In a world that (it seems to me) has clearly gone mad, where calling someone "evil" or "Lucifer" or worse has become part of daily national discourse, how can we discern the truth? The media has its own story to tell, and its own purposes for telling it so. An infinity of internet sources contribute to the confusion: "if I read it, it must be true."
I don't know the answer. I don't. I wish I did.