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by Abigail Van Buren

Naming Former Spouses Sets Record Straight in Obituaries

DEAR ABBY: "Surviving Son in California" (Sept. 20) sought your advice regarding proper protocol in mentioning all surviving relatives when parents had been divorced. You said, "After a couple divorces and one of them dies, the name of the former spouse is usually not mentioned in the obituary." I think your response needs a little tweaking.

My siblings and I faced this same scenario after my father passed away. My parents divorced when I was in grade school, and each parent had remarried by my freshman year in high school. Although their divorce was painful, they remained on friendly terms throughout their lives. I was adamant that my biological mother be listed in my father's obituary for two reasons: First, the obituary serves as a historical document. Second, I did not want people reading the obituary to think my siblings and I were children from my father's second marriage.

An obituary should serve as a historical account of our loved one's life -- not a battlefield. -- LESLIE IN PORT ANGELES, WASH.

DEAR LESLIE: Thank you for pointing out your valid reasons for including former spouses in an obituary. Allow me to share a few more. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I've worked in newspapers on the East Coast for the past 11 years, and I can tell you that mentioning a divorced spouse's name is totally a matter of individual and family preference. It is becoming more common to see "So-and-so" was the former wife and good friend of "the deceased," which is a nice development. It is the right of the surviving family to decide the contents of the obituary. Because some people even include pets among survivors, you would think an ex-spouse would receive the same consideration. -- NAME WITHHELD IN CONNECTICUT

DEAR ABBY: Genealogy researchers often use obituaries to find the parents or children of families. Here in Iowa, it is common for the obituary to show that a couple married, had children and were divorced. I understand how some children might decide to omit a parent if the divorce wasn't a friendly one. I was left out of my first husband's obituary, but I got over it. -- TWO SIDES TO A STORY

DEAR ABBY: There is a difference between an obituary and a death notice. A death notice is a paid announcement, usually in small type and generally placed by the funeral director. It can include, or exclude, anything the family wishes.

An obituary is an objective news story written by a bylined reporter, and it contains the good, the bad and the ugly -- including the names of former spouses, whether separated by death or divorce. -- FORMER COPY EDITOR IN PHILADELPHIA

DEAR ABBY: Here in the South, an ex-spouse is often listed this way: "Jane Doe of Memphis, Tenn., is the mother of his children." The primary reason is so the children feel their surviving parent, and the years their parents spent together, are acknowledged. -- NANCY IN CONWAY, ARK.

DEAR ABBY: You can't erase the years spent together as a family even though a divorce has occurred. I had been married for 30 years at the time of my divorce, and it is important for me to be listed when my ex passes away -- and vice versa. My ex and I discussed this and agreed that the obituary would be written this way: "Also survived by the mother/father of his/her children ... " In my mind, divorced or not, you will always be family. -- AN EX WHO IS STILL PART OF THE FAMILY