Documents Lie

During my youth, my father smoked an occasional cigar, probably when somebody gave him one. That was back when a lot of babies were being born, and the new father celebrated by passing out cigars. Later, after we children were grown and he had a bit of discretionary income, he smoked more often, but always when he was out walking. The walk probably offset any effects of the smoke. In his middle nineties, he did start using oxygen, though it was more because of his heart than his lungs.

My mother never smoked. And because of my father’s tendency to enjoy a cigar while he walked rather than at home, she wasn’t subjected to second hand smoke. Still, she did have lung problems, and in fact, died of lung cancer.

Whoever filled out her death certificate, probably someone from hospice, never bothered to find out the truth of her disease. They took the easy way out and under the cause of death, wrote that she died of lung cancer due to being a lifelong smoker.

One of my siblings wanted to get the certificate changed, but not until after my father was gone because she didn’t want to upset him further, though, to be honest, I don’t know why he didn’t review the certificate when it was handed to him. After I got Jeff’s death certificate, I read every word, though in my case, in might be more that I couldn’t believe he was actually gone, and I was trying to make it more real to me. That, and because I always review documents.

After my father died, the sibling didn’t have time to fight the bureaucracy, so the years passed, and my mother’s death certificate still documents a lie.

I don’t really mind what her death certificate says. Changing it wouldn’t make her any less dead, and as another sibling commented, “It makes a good story.” Not only that, the certificate is proof that documents lie. If there was ever a need to show that she didn’t cause her death through life-long neglect (though I doubt that would happen since she’s been gone for fourteen years), then there would be no way to do so now. The document, even with the falsehood, is considered to be the truth. A legal truth, that is. It is in no way the “real” truth.

Sometimes it’s important to remember that even if a document is signed, witnessed, notarized, and filed with the proper authorities, it doesn’t necessarily reflect the truth.

Documents, like people, do lie.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator