Kleenex alert: Tale of tragedy, irony and Christianity

It’s not every day that an obituary of a non-celebrity appears above the fold on a major daily newspaper’s front page. Rarer still is the mention, nay prominence, of a faith story unfolding within.

Bryan Marquard, veteran obit writer for the Boston Globe, no doubt did a double take when news of a young couple dying within 46 hours of each other crossed his desk. Marquard began making phone calls, and the result is a poignant piece about life, love and mortality — and an admirable incorporation of symbolic details about the couple’s Seventh-day Adventist backgrounds.

The lede sets the tone nicely:

When Neil Carruthers married Tina Nedelcu three years ago, he knew her funeral might arrive sooner than either wanted. She had already been treated for brain cancer, and had learned anew to talk and walk and coax her lovely voice to sing again in church.

For some, illness puts love on hold. Not Neil. “He said, ‘Mom, you don’t marry someone for their pedigree and you don’t marry them for their health history,’” his mother, Rosanne, recalled. “He told me, ‘Mom, whatever time we have, I want to spend with her.’”

As it turned out, Neil Carruthers had two days less to spend with his bride than either might have imagined. The husband/caregiver collapsed after leaving her bedside and died hours later; the cause of death is still pending an autopsy report. Tina Carruthers succumbed to cancer. Their families eulogized both at a joint service Sept. 28 at their congregation, the Stoneham Memorial Seventh-day Adventist Church.

In this story, readers are taken on a journey through Neil Carruthers’ early years at what Marquard labeled a Christian primary school and a Christian university (both of which I discovered online were, more precisely, Seventh-day Adventist institutions), his antics at a Seventh-day Adventist summer camp and how they found each other online at an Adventist dating website. We’re given a glimpse of their heartbreak, with Neil Carruthers reading highlighted passages of scripture from Tina Carruthers’ Bible out loud to her after she lost the ability to speak. And there’s this faith gem, too:

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Stan Musial wore his faith on his sleeve

As news of St. Louis Cardinal great Stan Musial’s death spread, Rocco Palmo tweeted:

As “The Man” goes to his reward, a memorable Dolan quote on receiving the red hat: “The only Cardinal I ever wanted to be was Stan Musial.”

Of course, Musial was not just an amazing baseball player, admired by everyone. He wasn’t just a gentleman with major personal accomplishments, including a marriage that lasted more than 71 years. He was also a devout Catholic. I was curious how the media would handle that aspect of the story.

I’m one of those people who want to know about religious affiliation in every single obituary I read. It’s the thing I want to read first in an encyclopedia entry, too. It’s a very important piece of information for me. But because Musial’s Catholicism was such an important part of his life — from his regular worship to the charities he was involved with — it’s an important part of the picture even for more typical readers who, I assume, don’t quite share my level of interest in religious affiliation.

So it was odd, I thought, that the Associated Press managed a healthy 2,000-word obituary of Musial without mentioning his faith once. The New York Times obit was even longer, but it also neglected to mention this aspect of The Man.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch didn’t devote too much space Musial’s faith, but neither did it neglect it. Here’s how it began:

It is unlikely a professional athlete ever has found it tougher to take off his uniform than Stan Musial. For the 22 years he played in the big leagues, from the time his mother manufactured baseballs for him out of old socks and tape, he loved nothing more than playing baseball.

“For Stan, it was a thrill to come to the ballpark every day,” former teammate Joe Cunningham said. “He loved the game, loved putting on the uniform.”

Yet, few athletes have segued into private life more seamlessly, and perhaps none has embellished his or her legacy more dynamically than Musial.

He has come to represent much more than baseball heritage for St. Louis. He has become a living monument, as identifiable with the city as the Gateway Arch, the Mississippi River or the Cardinals organization itself.

The integrity, humility and decency with which Musial has conducted his public life are virtues that family-friendly St. Louis promotes as its own. Musial doesn’t just represent the best the national pastime has to offer, he represents the best we hope to find in ourselves.

“One thing I have to say,” said Bill Virdon, whose arrival as a Rookie of the Year center fielder in 1955 moved Musial to first base. “He is one of the best people I’ve ever known. He is kind, generous … you could not meet a better person in this world than Stan Musial.”

Toward the end we’re told:

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