JACKSON, Tenn. — Singer and songwriter Denise LaSalle, whose hit "Trapped by a Thing Called Love" topped the R&B charts in 1971, has died. She was 78.
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Losing a loved one is never easy. It can be even more agonizing when the death was the result of mental illness, addiction, or another issue that is stigmatized in society.
In recent years, there has been a shift away from viewing depression and addiction as issues of morality. These are now widely considered to be mental health issues, as deserving of treatment as any other health issue. Progress is being made in government, health and the public eye to destigmatize these issues, but there is still a way to go.
This is apparent when a loved one dies under tragic circumstances. How to navigate an unexpected death in an obituary when the circumstances of the death are shameful to the surviving family, or could possibly paint the deceased in a negative light?
For some, a tragic or accidental death in the family is reason enough not to write an obituary. Grappling with grief, the traumatic circumstances of the death and their community's perceptions of those circumstances, there may be little will to write the life story.
Anger is a common response to any kind of loss. It's often even more prevalent for those who are grieving the victim of a suicide or overdose. This, coupled with shock, confusion and the usual emotional logistics of planning a funeral make writing an obituary difficult.
Revealing the manner of the subject's death is not the purpose of most obituaries. In fact, it is relatively uncommon to see a family list an explicit reason for death. No matter what, no one should feel compelled to include this private information in an obituary.
Those who have lost a loved one to mental illness understand that this kind of grief is complicated. Everything about it feels unfair, unlucky and preventable. For many, part of moving through the grief process involves engaging deeply with the issues that contributed to the death.
Obituaries that include a call to action are few and far between, but every once in awhile, a family will turn to a loved one's story to let their thoughts about social issues be known. From calling out fatphobia in the medical system, to advocating for gun reform, to challenging readers on their perceptions of death, these five obituaries had a point to prove.
Though there should be no pressure to directly address a suicide or overdose in a person's published life story, there are some advantages in doing so.
Those closest to the deceased person may be exhausted from answering the same questions over and over. Putting the circumstances in the obituary can help ward off the questions of curious acquaintances. Those acquaintances will be more equipped to be sensitive and supportive during this time.
An obituary is often a family affair. It can be difficult to face family so soon after a loss, but that doesn't mean you should write a loved one's story alone. Ask for input, clarify facts, double-check spellings of names and collaborate with others who knew the deceased person to tell a full and accurate story of their life. Including others is the process may make them feel like they have more control during uncertain times.
The person entrusted to write the obituary should have a good handle on the issues that led to the death, especially if they plan on including this information in the published life story.
Write tactfully, be as kind as possible to the subject of the obituary, and remember that this story will be public once it's published. Strangers, acquaintances, colleagues, friends, family and others may come across this life story. If you are planning on being direct about the cause of death, make sure you have considered the audience and impact in full.
Ready to write? Beyond the Dash obituaries are free to publish, never expire and include a guestbook for family and friends to share memories.
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