Survivors penning 'revenge obituaries' to settle scores with the departed

The posthumous pillorying of the dead – or the "revenge obituary" – is part of a growing trend that has family members digging up dirt on the deceased and getting the final word.

The latest is a local newspaper obituary for Kathleen Dehmlow, who passed away last week at a nursing home in Springfield, Minn., and could barely have hit any harder.

“She passed away on May 31, 2018, in Springfield and will now face judgment. She will not be missed by [her children] Gina and Jay, and they understand that this world is a better place without her.”

Not the most touching words of remembrance for the 80-year-old who once became pregnant by her brother-in-law and "abandoned her children," according to the now-viral obituary, which was picked up by everyone from London tabloids to a slew of buzzy social media sites. 

From the somewhat humorous -- Michael “Flathead” Blanchard “enjoyed booze, guns, cars and younger women until the day he died” – to the more morose, the obituary column has become for some a place where furious family members can finally settle their scores with the departed.

In 2017, after Leslie Ray “Popeye” Charming of Galveston, Texas, died of cancer, his family penned an obituary calling him a “horses (sic) ass” and “a model example of bad parenting, with mental illness and a complete commitment to drinking, drugs, womanizing and being generally offensive.”

When the Reno Gazette-Journal published an obituary for Marianne Theresa Johnson-Reddick after she died in 2013 -- which described “her lifetime torturing [her children] in every way possible” and refusing “to allow anyone else to care or show compassion towards them” -- there was such an outpouring of shock and disbelief that one of Johnson-Reddick’s daughters decided to pen an explanation.

In a piece for xoJane.com, Katherine Reddick recalled a childhood where she and her seven siblings were beaten, starved, drugged, and made to sleep on the kitchen floor while her prostitute mother had “guests” over.

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“I’ve tried to ‘forgive and forget,’ but I cannot close the memories of her foul and hateful words and many evil gestures she inflicted upon her children or anyone who tried to protect them,” Reddick wrote. “Even though I am older, happier and much gentler, I’ve never felt a greater sense of peace or relief than the day my brother called me singing ‘Ding, dong, the witch is dead.’”

Not everyone finds these types of obituaries so cathartic.

"I’ve never felt a greater sense of peace or relief than the day my brother called me singing ‘Ding, dong, the witch is dead.’”

— Katherine Reddick

After reading Kathleen Dehmlow's obit, one of her relatives, Dwight Dehmlow, told the Star Tribune Kathleen was sorry for the way she treated her children.

“She made a mistake 60 years ago, but who hasn’t?” he said. “Has she regretted it over the years? Yes.”

Dwight Dehmlow added he believed that Kathleen's son was behind the obituary. “He’s very upset,” he said. “He decided to go out with hate. I can’t believe he did this. ... This is going to hurt a lot of people.”

Ann Rosenberg, a grief counselor and licensed clinical social worker in New York City, told Fox News there are myriad reasons why a survivor would want to drag a family member’s name through the proverbial funereal mud.

Katherine Reddick recalled a childhood where she and her seven siblings were beaten, starved, drugged, and made to sleep on the kitchen floor while her prostitute mother had “guests” over.

Katherine Reddick recalled a childhood where she and her seven siblings were beaten, starved, drugged, and made to sleep on the kitchen floor while her prostitute mother had “guests” over. (YouTube)

“In one sense it could be a last bit of revenge by publicly letting other people know about how terrible their parents were,” Rosenberg said. “But it may not be a case of revenge at all. It could be a way to reach out to others like them, and find someone to bond with over a similar experience.”

Reddick said the obit she wrote about her mother was meant to be part of the healing process. She said she initially expected the scathing write-up to go unnoticed, and claimed surprise by the fact it went viral.

“The obituary ignited a national discussion that unveiled the secrecy and shame of child abuse… I have NO regrets; let the journey begin.”