The paid obituary published Monday in the Redwood Falls Gazette announcing the May 31 death of 80-year-old Kathleen Dehmlow gained global attention and has prompted a leading online obituary website to review its standards for what is proper to post about those who cannot defend themselves from the grave.
The obituary revealed that Dehmlow became pregnant by her husband’s younger brother and abandoned her young children Gina and Jay to start a new life with Lyle Dehmlow in California. The notice declared she “will now face judgement (sic),” and “this world is a better place without her.”
The son, who changed his name to Jay Dehmalo to distance himself from his past, told the London Daily Mail that he wrote the stinging send-off to help himself and his sister. “We wanted to finally get the last word.”
The 58-year-old Dehmalo, who lives in a Cleveland suburb, told the Daily Mail that the tone was Gina’s idea.
The Redwood Falls Gazette published the obituary as Jay Dehmalo wrote it, but it was pulled from the newspaper’s website and from the widely read Legacy.com on Tuesday.
Jay Dehmalo said most people “have no idea what we went through, and back then … nobody talked about anything.”
While not sharing specifics with the Daily Mail, Dehmalo described living in a dysfunctional family as a child and being shuttled about with his sister until maternal grandparents Joseph and Gertrude Schunk took them in.
When Joseph Schunk died in 1981, Jay Dehmalo said he was annoyed that he wasn’t mentioned in his grandfather’s obituary. A small inheritance for Jay and Gina from their grandfather’s death also played into the ill will, Dehmalo told the Daily Mail.
Later in life, Jay Dehmalo learned he had two half-brothers via Kathleen and Lyle Dehmlow, leaving him to stew over her “having a great life in California with her other kids,” the Daily Mail report read.
“We didn’t have so much as a card from her,” he told the paper. “I remember she came home twice and on one occasion she was showing pictures of her and her kids playing cards, drinking beers. … Gina and I were standing in the room, just standing there, and she didn’t even acknowledge us. It’s like we didn’t exist.”
Dehmalo’s obituary was rejected by the weekly newspaper in Springfield, east of Redwood Falls, where Kathleen Dehmlow returned from California as a widow in 2008 and where she died.
“It seemed quite vindictive,” Doris Weber, news editor for the Springfield Advance Press, said Thursday. “We’re a small town, and it would have hurt a lot of relatives and friends. … We need to be a more civil people.”
The obituary has had her town of 2,000 “just buzzing. Everybody’s talking about it.”
But her newspaper will not cover the to-do. “It’s just so complicated,” she said. “There are just a lot of unanswered questions. We don’t know what we would say.”
The Redwood Falls Gazette has not reported on the obituary or answered media inquiries. Executives with the Gazette’s corporate parent, New York-based GateHouse Media, did not field questions.
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