Sunday, April 11, 2010

Dash Between: Rosalie Miltak Sims and Obituary Clichés

As a veteran obituary writer, I have interviewed countless bereaved families and associates of the deceased in my effort to compose an obit that accurately explains who that person was.

I’ve learned that people who are mourning the loss of a loved one or colleague tend to say that the dearly departed was “a loving, giving, caring individual, who would do anything for anybody, always thought of others first and loved family above all else.”

Seemingly all people, who cross the ultimate border into the ranks of the dearly departed, were hard-working, fun-loving role models, who were kind to animals, never complained when they were suffering and would give you the shirt off their backs.

I’ve become cynical from hearing these obituary clichés time and time again.

I’ve learned that I have to let folks ramble and get the standard obit clichés out of their system – until they wrap it up with “He/she will sorely be missed by all” - so I can find out who that person really was.

So – bearing in mind how I feel about these clichés – I have to say that, if an obit writer were to ask me about my late sister, Rosalie Sims, who died more than a year ago, I would have to tell them this:

My sister . . . Rosalie Sims . . . truly was . . . a loving, giving, caring individual, who would do anything for anybody, always thought of others before herself and loved her family above all else.

My sister: The obit cliché.

Now I can’t say that she would give you the shirt off her back.

No, Rosalie would do better than that. She’d go shopping at an upscale department store and buy you a beautiful top-of-the-line shirt or blouse. At a bargain price.

And if the bargain was especially good, she’d buy you a second shirt. Maybe a third one or a pair of pants to go with it.

Rosalie bought our elderly aunts pretty nightgowns, sweaters and other gifts that made them feel good about themselves when they ended up in nursing homes.

She was the one in the family who frequently drove from Ohio to Pennsylvania to visit them. She didn’t care that their brains were pretty much gone due to dementia or Alzheimer’s and that they didn’t know her.

It didn’t matter to her that they no longer recognized her. She recognized them.

Rosalie looked out for all the elderly and ailing members of our family and made friends with the younger ones. She regularly checked up on everyone and told the rest of us how the others were doing.

She was a role model for her three children and four grandchildren. She was so proud of all of them. Steve Sims of New Philadelphia, Ohio, Venetia King of Clarksburg, W.Va., and Adrienne Wallace of Hopewell, Va., seem to have inherited their mom’s loving, giving, caring nature as well as her work ethic, humor and common sense.

Rosalie took bragging about her grandkids to the extreme. She always seemed to have an anecdote to share about the funny or inspiring things they said or did.

She spent her weekends going from one sporting event to another, doing her best to be supportive of all their endeavors. Then she reported on their individual performances to everyone she encountered. If the performance wasn’t stellar, she’d find something delightful to say about the way the grandchild looked or behaved.

My sister was a hard-working mom, who started delivering mail by car to residents in rural Harrison County, Ohio, in 1979, when her kids were young and they all lived in Jewett, Ohio. During her nearly 30-year career, Rosalie worked her way up from rural carrier to postmaster of the post office in Bergholz, Ohio.

She often worked six days a week. And she rarely missed a day of work before retiring in January 2007, a little more than a year before she died.

Several months after she retired, Rosalie was diagnosed with cancer.

It’s not fair that she was sick with cancer and/or cancer treatment for most of her brief retirement.

Rosalie might agree that it wasn’t fair. Yet she wouldn’t complain. She’d quickly find something positive about whatever situation she was facing.

She would tell you that you have no control over the cards that you are dealt in life. What matters is how you play your hand.

Rosalie Sims played her hand with grace, class and love.

(Alana Baranick misses both of her sisters – Rosalie Sims and Adrienne Rotta, who lived in Amherst, Ohio – and likes to re-read and look at their pictures on their obits and “In Remembrances” that are posted on this blog.)

This Dash Between was originally posted on on Aug. 14, 2009.

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