And a Charity for All

It used to be that when a loved one died, family members—in the death notice—would invite friends and relatives to honor the deceased by donating to a charity of their choice. Or they might suggest specific charities that benefit the larger community such as a hospital, art gallery, or children’s museum.

Is that custom now passé—another victim of our political wars? 

I wonder because a recent death notice I received online included the following instruction: 

Contributions may be made in her name to any political parties/organizations that work to unseat right-wing elected officials.

 We can’t live in peace with each other and now, apparently, we can’t die in peace, either. Am I naïve enough to have assumed that political partisanship properly ends at the grave? 

It reminds me of the episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” where Larry David and his wife, Cheryl, agree for their 10th anniversary to renew wedding vows. But when Cheryl proposes that the new vow declare they will love each other “through all eternity,” Larry objects. “This relationship continues into the afterlife?” he asks. “I thought it was over at death!”

This death notice—taking aim at elected officials on one side of the aisle and urging mourners to “unseat” them—to my ear echoes the harsh language of bitter factionalism. 

As such, it not only reflects our divided nation, it is itself divisive. 

What are mourners to do if they don’t happen to share the deceased’s politics? Must they dishonor their own views in order to honor hers? If they give to a cause other than “working to unseat” disfavored office-holders, are their donations to be considered second-rate?

Where does it end?

Would the deceased’s family disapprove if the person buried in the plot next to their loved one was discovered to have had conservative leanings? Perhaps we must now have “Red” and “Blue” cemetery sections to be sure all can rest in peace.

Is death no longer the great leveler?

Speaking at American University in 1963, President John Kennedy noted that Russians and Americans—then bitter Cold War enemies—nevertheless all come to the same end. “Our most basic common link,” he said, “is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

Must it really be our dying wish that everyone with whom we disagree be “unseated”? 

Can we not, even at the end, muster enough humility to question the absolute correctness of our views and tolerate those who held views different from our own?

Many times I’ve stood at graveside and found comfort in the ancient wisdom of Ecclesiastes: “A time to love and a time to hate/A time for war and a time for peace.”

Even in these troubled times, I’d like to think death can be a time not for partisan hate and political war, but—if not for loveat least for peace.

If we truly desire to honor loved ones when they pass, let’s try harder to extend the hand of conciliation to all who mourn. One way is by suggesting worthy causes for donation that everyone can be glad to support. Lincoln maybe said it best. To paraphrase his Second Inaugural: “with malice toward none, and a charity for all.”

About Peter Lovenheim

Peter Lovenheim is a journalist and author, most recently of The Attachment Effect. He is Washington Correspondent for the Rochester (NY) Beacon, and lives in Washington, DC.

Photo: CSA Images/Getty Images

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