Just yesterday, Slate’s Hanna Rosin, my own beloved editor, wrote: “The world today brings news that Jan Berenstain, co-author with her husband Stan, of the 45 years and running Berenstain Bears series for children, has passed on to a better world. As any right thinking mother will agree, good riddance.” She was talking about the cartoon bears, of course, and not Jan Berenstain herself, the small 88-year-old, with her bangs and glasses, photographed holding her special pens and special pad, still creating, still drawing in her ninth decade. Hanna was presumably not saying “good riddance” as in, it is good that Jan Berenstain suffered a stroke and died in her hospital bed, and the clever analysis of the ubiquitous children’s series that follows this flashy statement is entirely fair and well-reasoned. And yet one wonders, whatever strong emotions one has about the cartoon bears in a children’s book, could that bold and harsh “good riddance,” have been resisted the day Jan Berenstain’s death was announced?
Just as one tries not to wear fuchsia to a funeral, it seems that one might fruitfully reserve one’s more pointed critiques for another occasion. There is, however, an increasing fashion for these negative obituaries, this sharp summing up of dead people’s achievements in which they are found falling short, these personal attacks timed as the dead person’s possessions are still being retrieved in plastic bags by their relatives from the hospital.