You’ve probably never met the late Martha Hazel, who died May 30 at age 98, but if you read her obituary, written absolutely charmingly in first-person, you’ll feel as if she’s sitting across from you with a cup of tea, or maybe a cocktail, telling her life story.
“I am Martha Alexander Hazel. I was born in Presbyterian Hospital in January, 1919, and I was the last of my Mother's ten children and the first not born at home,” it begins.
It goes on, in friendly, conversational fashion – hilarious at times – to tell of growing up in then-new Dilworth, having a husband in World War II, raising two children and losing her daughter. And growing old.
“I've lived at Southminster on Park Road since 2012. The folks here have taken good care of me but I have to say that growing really old has not been a lot of fun. I lost my driver's license 2 years ago after almost backing over a driver examiner in the DMV parking lot.”
“I died this evening, May 30, 2017, in the care of Hospice at Southminster Retirement Community. As a convicted Calvinist, moving beyond my long life on this earth, I am confident that my predestined fate is in God's hands and that He knows best. Amen.”
Only Martha Hazel didn’t write her own obituary.
Her son, 74-year-old Phillip Hazel Jr., did.
He says it was the best way he knew to memorialize his mom.
“When I thought about my mother dying, I couldn’t get my head around what an obituary would look like for her and how it would speak to the woman I knew,” he said. “I couldn’t think of a way to write it and make Mother seem like a whole human being.
“I read the obituaries in the newspaper because I grew up in Charlotte. I read the obit of a guy who was the chairman of a surgery unit, and one who was a politician who served 36 years, and all the rotarians. My mother was not there,” he said.
“But it was really easy to write what she did when she was living this life.”
Martha Hazel’s mental faculties had been declining in recent years, her son said, but she got around with the help of a walker or wheelchair until last Saturday, when she fell while transferring from her wheelchair to a chair in her room at Southminster. She broke the left wing of her pelvis and her left femur. She died four days later.
Earlier this week, with his mother in hospice care, Phillip, retired president of the Statesville Flying Service, spent an afternoon in his Statesville home crafting her obituary.
He took it to the hospice room where his mom lay sedated and read it to four cousins who had gathered at the bedside.
“I didn’t have the guts to wake her up and make sure she heard it,” he said with a laugh.
“She didn’t like to talk about herself. She was a pretty private person. I got an email from a cousin once removed ... and she said that she loved the picture and she loved the obituary, but that my mother was going to kill me,” he said, laughing again.
He says the whole family knows that he’s the real author of his mom’s first-person obituary. He expects some good-natured ribbing and “knife twisting” when they gather Saturday to inter his mom beside his dad in Elmwood Cemetery.
But an obituary is an epilogue, the final story of a person’s life. And who knows better than a mother’s son – her only living child – how to tell the story that goes beyond a list of places lived, family members and committees served?
“I think she would have liked to have had stories – good stories – told about her, without going beyond the limits of what really happened,” he said. “She was not a person to exaggerate.”
In addition to raising her own children, Martha Hazel took care of the children of three sisters and three nieces who died young, “as though they were her own,” Phillip Hazel says. “She wasn’t a talker. She was a doer.
“I just thought it was an honest way to write about my mother’s life. I don’t think she ever did anything extraordinary, but she did a lot of wonderful things for the people she cared about.”