Could you imagine?

How would you like to be remembered? Commemorating someone’s life, whether on their tombstone, in a newspaper column or online normally includes praise for their achievements. There are even ‘How to write an obituary’ guides online for anyone tasked with creating one.

Yet a son’s tribute to his late mother has caused an internet sensation for the opposite reason: it’s really quite insulting. The author Andy Coreen dedicated the light-hearted obituary to his mom Renay, and may have sparked a new craze in doing so. 

The man behind the viral sensation is known for his sense of humour, and the tribute is full of cutting comments poking fun at his mother’s way of life. The thousand-word piece starts off by announcing the death of a ‘plus-sized Jewish lady redneck’, before describing how ‘she lied a lot, didn’t cook, didn’t clean and was lousy with money’.

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There are subjects we might think are off-limits, even as a joke, stuff like alcoholism or problem gambling, yet Andy has no issue hinting at his mum’s love for a drink or two. His line ‘there will be much mourning in the many glamorous locales she went bankrupt in’ was one of many darkly comic one-liners.

The piece continues to contradict the normal rules of an obituary by listing his mother’s unusual hobbies, including ‘rolling joints and buying dirty magazines’. 

But rather than be offended by this insulting memorial, Andy insists that his mother would find it funny. He would know: in an interview with The Guardian, a UK newspaper, he said he started writing it while she was sitting next to him and very much alive. He even read a few sentences of it aloud to her, making her laugh. 

His reasoning was that his mother, like him, hated the conventional way of doing things, and an obituary was just one of them. Andy, a talent manager from New York, described normal tributes as ‘staid and earnest’. He wanted his personalized version to be free from ‘formats and straitjackets’, which to him made post-humous messages sound like ‘report cards’ – and who needs a report card when they die?

The message rounds things off by calling for a ‘very disrespectful and totally non-denominational memorial’ – breaking with further religious conventions – and that the family ‘requests zero privacy’. The last part was especially appropriate: the tribute went viral on Twitter, earning praise from thousands of users. 

But why has the obituary struck such a chord with people? Well, other than its obvious unconventional tone – people always like strange things, after all – it’s very well-written. Some of the jokes are very witty. Littered with cutting comments, the piece reflects Andy’s talents as a writer. He is the author of several small stageplays and thousands of articles over a 20-year timespan. As an actor, he is also an expert at delivering these witty put-downs. All told, he’s the perfect man to write such a tribute. 

Another reason for its popularity might be hidden deep into our collective psyche. The pandemic, and the hard times that have come with it, have caused many people to become more anxious. We are confronted with reminders of death more than usual, which causes us to feel anxious and not in control. Tributes like this, as dark as they are, give us a little light relief, something to laugh about in a time of crisis.

For Andy, it’s given him a chance to process his mother’s death, while he says he’s ‘very touched’ by the positive response he’s received after publishing the obituary in the Fay Observer, a local newspaper.

While he might be on the verge of sparking an online trend, Andy isn’t the first to publish a funny obituary or epitaph. Comedian Spike Milligan made the world chuckle following his death in 2002 by having Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite inscribed onto his gravestone: Gaelic Irish for ‘I told you I was ill’. 

In the United States, a US family writing about the death of their relative Mary Anne Noland said that she chose to ‘pass onto the eternal love of God’ instead of voting in the US election that was about to take place. 

Or about getting an obituary even if you haven’t passed away? American writer Mark Twain caused a stir when reports of his death appeared in several local newspapers. Twain, famous for his memorable quotes, simply remarked ‘The report of my death was an exaggeration’.