Obituaries, Visitors and Mary Oliver

Yvonne Brill, rocket scientist, being honored by Pres. Obama

Yvonne Brill, rocket scientist, being honored by Pres. Obama

Earlier this week, the New York Times ran an obituary for Yvonne Brill, a celebrated rocket scientist (and, no, unfortunately, she didn’t get her undergrad degree in the hallowed halls of MHC, but rather, in her native Canada, the University of Manitoba) which began like this:

She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. ‘The world’s best mom,’ her son Matthew said.

I watched the feminine uprising take off on Facebook and Twitter. Would the revered NYT ever begin an obituary of a celebrated male rocket scientist by starting with his cooking skills? It reminded me of the time Hillary Clinton, well, wait, I’ll show you:

The New York Times has since changed Yvonne Brill’s obituary in response to the criticism.

I know it’s sometimes suggested as an exercise for a variety of reasons to write your own obituary (maybe goal-setting, clarifying your values, etc.) Once, I wrote a character’s biography in an attempt to create and understand her back story better. But, I don’t want to write my obituary today. I want to share with you the ending of Mary Oliver’s poem, “When Death Comes,” because it says what I hope for.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Certainly, Yvonne Brill was more than a visitor. She was clearly a tremendous mother and that is absolutely important — it’s clear she thought so. But, would the New York Times ever discuss a father’s cooking and parenting skills when his obituary is in the Times for an entirely different reason? No. Hopefully, the New York Times learned something in this incident.

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