I have never - liked obituaries. Biographies? Yes. Complete histories? Of course.
But obituaries? The limitations of the form have always bothered me. And reducing something as complicated as a human life, rendering it into an easy-to-read piece on the train seems almost sinful.
Yet obituaries of great lives produce some awfully fine and thoughtful writing. But subjecting the dead to a writer’s whim, taking a few details from a life or an anecdote and using these to pin the dead to common memory like a butterfly on a board? It’s always seemed rather monstrous.
If obituaries are often incomplete, just consider Twitter, and having your life and your honor subject to the mad barking of anonymous dogs.
Why am I thinking this way? I’ve been at several funerals lately, good and kind people of my parents’ generation, the Greatest Generation, are passing on. The golf balls tucked neatly into an uncle’s coffin, sports tickets, a last letter to grandma.
They’re remembered by those of us who loved them and we’ll tell their stories again and again around our kitchen tables.
But what of the public dead, those who leave their mark and make a name, and then are subject to slurs when they close their eyes for good?
It is happening to Barbara Bush.
She was America’s grandmother with those pearls and her white hair and that beautiful weathered face, the face of a woman who lived a life with profound character.
And on the train into Chicago, scanning the Real Clear Politics website, I was struck by this headline about her.
“The First Lady Who Ran the Family That Ran the Country” linked to excellent piece on Mrs. Bush by Margaret Carlson of Time.
”Barbara Bush was as grounded as any first lady,” Carlson begins, “a down-to-earth realist planted firmly between two high-flying stars: Nancy Reagan of the rail-thin coiffed good looks, rarely seen children, and adoring gaze; and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the two-for-the-price-of-one lawyer who let it be known she wouldn’t be staying home and baking cookies. But she proved to be a national force, worth every penny we didn’t pay her.”
Mrs. Bush was a Republican matron of a lost age, when women were expected to put their children and husbands first. It was terribly unfair that women were expected to put aside their own careers and educations, but those were the times. She made the best of them.
A gracious and kind farewell by the Women’s March Twitter account — a photo of Mrs. Bush with the words “rest in peace and power” — drew a predictable angry response from America’s left.
They ticked off her sins. She loved being a wife and mother and wanting to stay at home. She said some things about the refugees from Hurricane Katrina coming to Houston, although now I’m reminded that Jesse Jackson and others of the left had loudly prohibited the use of the word “refugees.”
Journalists complied, terrified lest they be branded as racists, and so much for the notion of free speech. Yet what were the people fleeing from Katrina if not refugees seeking shelter from the storm?
No one lives a life without saying something they regret, unless of course, you live as some hateful insect, crawling along the baseboards of social media, a cartoon head as your sigil.
And Barbara Bush was the wife of an American president, and mother of another American president. In our history, the only other woman to have been wife and mother to presidents was Abigail Adams.
She had those pearls and the smile and that white hair, and yes, a patrician demeanor. But only a fool could look at those eyes twinkling, and not see the strong woman behind the face, a woman who spent her life in politics, and who could probably cut out your heart with a butter knife to protect her family or her country.
She’d do it with a smile.
The hard American left — to be distinguished from liberals — hates her. The left is all about hatred now, about deconstruction, about scraping away the past in an iconoclastic Orwellian frenzy.
And so warriors of the left treated compliments paid to the memory of this gracious lady with anger. In ages past, they might scribble anonymously on bathroom walls. Now they use Twitter.
Some of the most distasteful tweets came from Randa Jarrar, a professor of English at Fresno State.
In barely literate fashion, this shaper of impressionable young minds displayed her venomous hatred.
”Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist who, along with her husband, raised a war criminal,” Jarrar wrote on Twitter. “F — — outta here with your nice words.”
This is the left. Understand them. They feel a tribal duty to visit hatred upon the mother for what the son did to Iraq. There is no honor in this.
I’d much rather think of Barbara Bush visiting Wellesley, as Carlson did at the end of her excellent obituary, Mrs. Bush speaking to those young women who wanted her there and to those who did not.
“At the end of your life,” said Barbara Bush, “you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend or a parent.”
She died at home, surrounded by family, her husband — the first boy she ever kissed — by their children and their grandchildren. A life well lived.
John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Readers may send him email at [email protected].