Trauma should not be ignored
February 18, 2021
The role of CVN obituaries has long been confusing. As an editor, I would struggle with how to handle the obituary for Doris Ward. The final version included these two sentences: “She married Karl Ward in 1970. He died in 1997.” So much unsaid trauma among those few words. A comparison to reflect on would be in 2009 when Mark Becker, a 24-year-old with schizophrenia, went into a weight room in his hometown of Parkersburg, Iowa, and killed iconic high school football coach Ed Thomas. The town of about 1,900 then had to endure a first-degree murder trial and conviction. Ten years later, The Des Moines Register reported that Becker’s parents still live in Parkersburg. The town had found a way to navigate all that agony. It wasn’t easy. Becker’s parents said they left town every June on the anniversary of Ed’s death. They also left their church; Ed’s empty pew was too difficult to bear. The Beckers staying in Parkersburg is a remarkable story of small-town resilience. Doris Ward had another story of resilience, but we never heard it. Omitting that reality from the obituary only stigmatizes it further, like substituting “died suddenly” for “died by suicide.” We should talk about these traumas, rather than hide them. Including more on Karl in the obituary would not be a smear of his wife’s life. Someone we love might be connected to acts we hate. That’s the psychological conflict of small towns, where we care who the murderer’s parents are.