My father subscribes to my hometown’s Jewish newspaper, which I enjoy reading when I visit. A recent edition featured an obituary for an old friend of my parents. I mentioned it to my father, who hadn’t heard the news. He asked me to call the widower so that he could offer condolences.
A call like this can be awkward, especially when you have read about a death in the paper and have no outside confirmation.
I located the number, identified myself to the woman who answered, and explained why I was calling. She put my father’s friend on, and I began again. He appeared to understand who who was calling. The rest of the conversation went something like this:
Me: I read about your wife in the paper, and my father. . .
Widower: What about her?
Me: Um, we saw the obituary in the paper.
W: What obituary?
Me: [I confirm that I am talking to the correct person. He does not have a common name.] There is an obituary here for your wife.
W: [Convincingly] My wife is alive.
Me: Um, there must be a mistake.
W: Yes, there is a mistake. Where is that notice again?
Me: In the local Jewish newspaper.
W: Please send me a copy.
I demurred and quickly ended the conversation, without giving the phone to my father.
I checked the obituary again. One and a half columns detailed the wife’s life accomplishments and listed the rabbi who had officiated at the funeral. On the same page a paid announcement from a local synagogue offered condolences to the widower.
My father was distressed by the confusion and talked about it all evening. When my sister got home, she reported that the wife had told her several years ago about her husband’s Alzheimer’s.