Sybil Hicks’ children knew that a normal obituary wouldn’t suffice for their mom. So, when the matriarch passed away at the age of 81, they ditched the idea of a somber goodbye. Instead, they wrote an obituary that was equal parts savage, bold, funny and heart-wrenching. And Sybil’s kids weren’t the only ones who appreciated her non-traditional send-off; the internet loved it, too.
Sybil had a keen sense of humor, in fact, although her five children and husband, Ron, would remember her for much more than that. For one thing, she had devoted her life to helping others. Professionally, she’d worked as a nurse as well as helping Ron run a school bus company. In her spare time, meanwhile, she’d taught sewing classes and had collected bottles to raise money for charity.
However, Sybil had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s several years prior to her passing, and naturally the disease had changed the senior; she was no longer the witty and often forthright individual that her relatives had known. So that’s precisely where her one-of-a-kind obituary came in. Sybil’s children wanted one last chance to have a real – and really funny – conversation with their mom.
We’ll return to Sybil’s epic send-off later, but first, let’s learn a bit more about this remarkable woman. In her younger years, Sybil collected her diploma with honors from Waterdown High School in Ontario, Canada, where she strolled across the stage in glistening saddle shoes. But that wasn’t the end of her time in academia. In 1957, you see, she graduated alongside that year’s class of aspiring medical professionals at the Hamilton General Hospital School of Nursing.
Fast-forward 15 years, though, and life looked completely different for Sybil. By that time, she had married her husband, Ron, and the pair had welcomed five children – the five Bs, as they referred to them. They had their eldest son Bob, then Brian. Daughters Brenda and Barbara followed, along with youngest sibling Bruce.
Then, in 1972, the Hicks family all packed into the car and moved in pursuit of a new life in Baysville, Ontario. Ron’s new post had him in charge of a school bus company in the area, and Sybil joined in by helping him run the firm. But that wasn’t all; she also worked as a nurse as well as maintaining a slew of hobbies.
For one thing, Sybil loved to garden; she had also mastered sewing to the point that she’d decided to teach the craft to others. And in what remained of her spare time, the mom of five stitched together vests for the Baysville chapter of the Lions Club – a community service organization with more than 1.4 million members worldwide.
Meanwhile, following Sybil’s death, her kids couldn’t say enough about how caring their mother had been. While talking to CBC in 2019, Brian – the second oldest of the five Hicks kids – described his late relative in simple but affectionate terms, saying, “She was a kind-hearted person – always had a smile.”
What’s more, Sybil and Ron’s abode apparently had an open-door policy. Brian went on to say, “The home was always… welcome to their friends as well as all of our friends as kids. Every one of our friends just didn’t want to leave. They’d end up overnight or for the weekend because they enjoyed our family dynamic.”
But Sybil was not a one-note kind of lady, as she juxtaposed her deeply caring nature with a quick sense of humor and wit. For instance, the nurse had a nickname for herself that she used when she wanted her words delivered with extra oomph. Brian recalled, “She often referred to herself as Mrs. Ron Hicks.”
Brian added that as “Mrs. Ron Hicks,” Sybil’s words carried more weight. The late woman’s son explained to CBC that she had used the nickname “when she wanted to be forceful and make a point and kind of get on a bit of a soapbox. She often used that term when she had an opinion about things.”
And, as it turned out, Sybil – the kind-hearted, gentle nurse – had staunch opinions on a lot of topics. Nor did she have any trouble holding her own when Ron would initiate a bit of banter between the pair. In fact, she had a nickname for him that she deployed in this specific circumstance: Horse’s Ass.
Brian explained, “[Horse’s Ass is] a term [that Sybil] used an awful lot, and I’ll give you an example. You know, often when she would say something loud and with authority, my father lovingly said to her, ‘Sybil, you know, can I help you down?’” But his inquiry was not a genuine one; instead, it was the set-up for a joke.
Brian explained that during such moments, Sybil “would kind of look at [Ron] quizzically, and she [would say], ‘What do you mean?’” And as his son recalled it, Ron would respond, “Well, I can help you get down off that soapbox if you like.” After that, the Hicks family matriarch would deploy her little nickname for her husband. Brian joked, “So, that’s sort of how that term of endearment came about.”
Over time, the Hicks family grew to encompass Sybil, Ron, their five children and 13 grandchildren: Megan, Joel, Caitlin, Rachel, Isaac, Annie, Rachel, Harrison, Emma, Chloe, Clark, Griffin and Orion. But their happy, hilarious family dynamic would change when Sybil received a heartbreaking diagnosis from her doctor.
Sadly, it turned out that Sybil had Alzheimer’s, and her family could only watch as the woman who had cared for them and made them laugh began to slip away. Then, just after 8:00 a.m. on February 2, 2019, she died after her years-long battle with the condition.
Naturally, following Sybil’s passing, the family subsequently embarked on the steps required to honor a deceased loved one. But some of the more traditional ways to say goodbye just didn’t seem to suit the 81-year-old mother and grandmother. For one, Sybil’s kids felt that a run-of-the-mill obituary simply wouldn’t suit the woman whom they had lost.
Brian told CBC, “We wanted to do something that kind of celebrated who [Mom] was and to give us an opportunity to basically have one last conversation with her and have some laughs at the same time.” But the siblings weren’t the only ones who had to consider how to best say goodbye; they had to contemplate Ron’s wishes, too.
In fact, by the time of Sybil’s passing, Ron’s life had changed in more ways than one. You see, one of his wife’s friends, Dorothy, had stepped in to help care for the ailing former nurse. And someone who claimed to know the Hicks family then took to the website Reddit to explain how Dorothy and Ron had grown close as Sybil’s condition had worsened.
The Reddit user described the increasing bond between Ron and Dorothy, however, as “just one human comforting another during an undoubtedly difficult time.” In any case, someone as straightforward as Sybil would likely have included the news of her husband’s new partnership in her obituary – and this meant Brian and his siblings had to get Ron on board with such an inclusion, too.
To seal the deal, Sybil’s kids penned the obituary first and then shared it with Ron over the phone. After reading the tribute, though, the Hicks kids heard nothing on the other end of the line. Yet Ron wasn’t silent out of anger; instead, he had just been laughing too hard at what they had written.
Brian said to CBC, “[Ron] just felt so comfortable with the way that we presented the idea, and he just said, ‘Carry on, and I hope the service is just as fun to celebrate your mother’s life.’” But, as we shall see, Sybil’s family weren’t the only people to go down the comical route with their tribute to their loved one.
Indeed, 63-year-old Tim Schrandt’s obituary hit pretty much the same notes as Sybil’s. And that was all down to the deceased’s sister Pam Kopriva-Barnes, who in 2019 told City Pages that she found most printed goodbyes to be too formulaic and boring. Pam added of such eulogies, “You might as well go to the courthouse.” So, after her one-of-a-kind brother lost his battle to cancer, she knew that she had to break the mold.
And in the very first line of her brother’s obituary, Pam made it clear that she hadn’t written the typical goodbye. She began, “Tim Schrandt (Lynyrd) made his last inappropriate comment on March 29, 2019. If you are wondering if you may have ever met him, you didn’t – because you would remember. For those of you that did meet him, we apologize, as we’re sure he probably offended you. He was world-renowned for not holding back and telling it like it is.”
Pam then backtracked to the beginning of her brother’s life. According to her, Tim’s June 11, 1955, birthday had come “100 years too late.” His sister added, “Given Tim’s demeanor, he would have been the perfect weathered cowboy in the Old West or [a] rough-and-tough pioneer. Or maybe he just should have been Amish.”
What’s more, Tim’s iconoclastic nature shines through in his obituary. Pam went on to explain that his “fondness for [his own] authority… followed him to South Winneshiek High School in Calmar and later into the army. This provided for many interesting episodes and stories, detentions and demotions and a few ‘run-ins’ with the law – not just locally, but globally.”
Pam also noted that her brother had left “behind a hell of a lot of stuff that his family doesn’t know what to do with.” She even offered up Tim’s “Virgin Mary in a bathroom shrine” to interested obituary readers. And his sister spoke about her sibling’s closest family members, including his two beloved sons – as well as the granddaughters whom he had “taught to cuss.”
Of course, Tim’s family would miss the outspoken personality that had drawn people to him. In the obit, Pam explained, “[His family] wanted to hang out near him because you just knew he was going to say or do something good. It’s not that he was such a great storyteller; it’s that he was the story.”
And clearly Tim’s ability to tell a good tale appeared to run in the family if Pam’s tribute to her brother was anything to go by. In any case, after the obituary was published, it went viral across Facebook. And in one of several news reports about the unusual death notice, City Pages added that some readers had even deemed it to be “possibly the best obituary ever written.”
Sybil Hicks’ goodbye had pretty much the same effect after its publication, too, as it quickly racked up thousands of shares on social media. Why? Well, it could be because – in the same manner as Pam – her children hadn’t held back. Instead, they had delivered their mother’s goodbye as if she had written it herself: packed with her signature wit.
According to The Hamilton Spectator, Sybil’s obituary began, “It hurts me to admit it… but I, Mrs. Ron Hicks from Baysville, have passed away.” Right off the bat, then, her kids started with one of their mother’s signature statements. As we previously mentioned, Sybil had referred to herself as Mrs. Ron Hicks when she had wanted to make an emphatic point.
Next, the obituary described Sybil’s death – also from her point of view. It continued, “I passed peacefully with my eldest daughter, Brenda, by my side.” Soon enough, though, the tone reverted back to one of sly wit. “Sybil” continued, “I leave behind my loving husband, Ron Hicks, whom I often affectionately referred to as a ‘Horse’s Ass.’”
Next, Sybil’s obituary covered the “children whom [she had] tolerated over the years.” And it perhaps comes as no surprise that each one was mentioned in honest detail. Sybil’s eldest son, Bob, was deemed the late mom’s “favorite”; the second-born, Brian, by contrast, was “the Oreo cookie favorite.” That description required some clarification, however, from the cookie lover himself.
Brian explained to CBC, “My sisters keep claiming that I took all of the Oreo cookies out of the bag and then pretended I never got one so my mother would buy me a bag just for myself. They were always teasing me.” As such, he became the “Oreo cookie favorite” in the obituary. But the youngest three siblings weren’t forgotten; they each got their own descriptions, too.
Sybil’s oldest daughter, Brenda, was remembered, for instance, as “[running] to clean the bathrooms when she heard company was coming.” Next came Barbara, whom the obituary labeled “the ever Miss Perfect.” Lastly, Sybil said goodbye to “Baby Bruce, who wouldn’t eat homemade turkey soup because he didn’t want to be alert looking for bones while he ate.”
On a more touching note, Sybil’s first-person obituary then said that she’d “miss seeing [her] sweetest grandchildren… grow up to be the incredible people they are meant to be.” The tribute also went on to recall the incredible life that had led her to become a grandmother, starting with the “shiny bright saddle shoes” that she’d worn to her high school graduation.
Sybil’s obituary then touched on her nursing training and career as well as her and Ron’s bus company in Baysville. It also talked about her children hopping into the car for the family’s move up north and mentioned the matriarch’s love of horticulture, sewing and the Lions Club.
To close, though, Sybil’s goodbye reverted back to her signature snark. In perhaps its most surprising moment, the obituary stated, “I finally have the smoking hot body I have always wanted… having been cremated.” And when the first-person narrator invited everyone who knew her to come bid her farewell, it came with a side of biting wit, too.
The obituary said, “Please come say goodbye and celebrate my wonderful life with my husband and his special friend Dorothy, who is now lovingly taking care of my Horse’s Ass.” Then, we discover who actually wrote Sybil’s goodbye. The first-person narrator claimed, “It wasn’t my husband, it wasn’t my oldest, nor was it my youngest.”
Finally, the tone switched yet again, as the obit touchingly concluded, “Thank you all for sharing my life with me.” And with that, the Hicks children delivered a tribute that would go viral across the internet. One Twitter user summed it up perfectly, in fact, when they wrote, “Sybil Marie Hicks passed away this week at the age of 82, and man did she go out swinging.”
But while Sybil’s obituary may have been affectionately written, that wasn’t the case with another eulogy that hit the headlines in 2017. Yes, although Cornelia June Rogers Miller’s obit was similarly far from the norm, there appeared to be no love lost between the deceased and the individual who had penned the caustic tribute.
A few months after Miller had died, an obituary for her had appeared in a North Carolina newspaper. And while that by itself was nothing really out of the ordinary, this particular tribute to the deceased ended up making waves for its brutal honesty. The notice didn’t hold back, in fact, in its scathing take-down of the 82-year-old – and it seriously upset the late great-grandmother’s son as a result.
From the basic facts of Miller’s life, though, you may never realize what she had apparently done to warrant such harsh treatment. June – as Miller preferred to be known – entered the world in the Mississippi city of Morton in 1934, although she later settled in Gainesville, Florida. Then, after that, she relocated to High Springs, FL, alongside her husband, Robert, and their son, Robert Jr., where it appears she lived out the rest of her days.
Apart from June’s husband and son, her immediate family also consisted of daughters Suzanne Amos and Marilyn Miller. Through them and Robert Jr., June would gain a total of nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren – all born within her lifetime. At the time of her death, another two great-grandkids were also on the way.
But although June had chosen Florida as her home, it appears that she and her husband had had a long-running love affair with North Carolina. At the very least, the couple had a summer home in the town of Murphy in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and they are said to have visited the location whenever they could.
In 2017 Robert Jr. told News Channel 9, “Once my father retired, [he and my mom] would go up to Murphy pretty much whenever they liked to. They would go for a weekend in the winter.” When June and Robert Sr. sold their beloved retreat in 2016, though, those times came to an end.
By that point, the six and a half-hour drive between High Springs and Murphy was proving too arduous for June and Robert Sr. The health of each was, it seems, not as good as it had once been. Then, finally, the couple moved together into an assisted living facility, where they shared a room.
But the couple were separated for good in February 2017 when June sadly lost her life. Along with her extended family, the wife and mother left behind her husband, who was four years her senior. And explaining the cause of his mother’s death, Robert Jr. told News Channel 9, “She was 82 years old, I believe, so she had a variety of complications.”
Yet while it’s not exactly clear how the Miller family coped in the months following June’s passing, it can’t have helped those grieving for the matriarch when a truly savage obituary subsequently appeared in the Cherokee Scout. That’s one of the local North Carolina newspapers, and it’s based in the couple’s beloved Murphy.
Put simply, an obituary is a news article or notice that declares the death of an individual. Often, it features some details about the major aspects of that person’s life – the family members they have left behind, for example, or a small summary of their greatest achievements. And, usually, an obit will also provide the details of any funeral held on behalf of the deceased.
In many cases, too, an obituary is written by someone who was close to the person who has died. The notice is then typically published by a local newspaper in order to inform the wider community of the individual in question’s passing. And, frequently, such a tribute aims to give others a flavor of the deceased’s life, detailing what was important to them.
Furthermore, since an obituary can serve as a lasting written eulogy, a family may feel it important to give some sense of their loved one’s nature in their tribute. Relatives may also deem it necessary to express their sorrow at the death or even give thanks for the time that they had together with the deceased.
And owing to their often heartfelt content, obituaries often make for emotional reading. A good obituary can even give readers an insight into an individual’s life and an idea of their character – even if the person being written about had been a total stranger.
As you may know, then, an obit tends to focus on the positive aspects of a person’s life – maybe even giving a glowing synopsis of their time on Earth. And with that in mind, June’s obituary rather stood out from the crowd when it appeared in the Cherokee Scout. That wasn’t down to the tribute being exceptionally kind, mind you; in fact, it was quite the opposite.
And after the scathing announcement hit the press, it left June’s son feeling very upset. Indeed, during his conversation with News Channel 9, Robert Jr. expressed his dismay with the obit, saying, “The whole thing is just sad.” But while it’s not publicly known who was responsible for the terrible tribute, Robert Jr. believed that the obituary had come from someone close to his mother – and probably either Suzanne or Marilyn.
As June’s devastated son told News Channel 9, “It’s unbelievable that my sisters would write this. It’s really sad that they don’t have anything better to do.” However, despite Robert Jr.’s finger-pointing, the mystery surrounding the obituary only deepened when one of his sisters denied that they were responsible for its publication.
The obit in question begins ordinarily enough, citing June’s full name and her birthday as well as her hometown. It also gives the day on which she had died as February 23, 2017. And while that date may have been accurate, it nevertheless hinted at something rather unusual. You see, it appeared that June had passed away a whole four months before the notice had appeared in the Cherokee Scout.
Then, after the seemingly innocuous intro, June’s obituary continued in a familiar way, detailing the circumstances surrounding her death and stating that she had passed “after a long battle with drug addiction and depression.” After that, there was some information on the places where June had lived, alongside a mention of Murphy – where, the obit said, the deceased had “spent summers.”
Next up, there were some details regarding June’s family situation, with her three children, Robert Jr., Suzanne and Marilyn all mentioned. And the seemingly touching next line read, “Each child had three children, brighter and more attractive than the generation before them. All nine are a testimony to a life well lived.”
However, as the obituary went on, things took a savage turn. You see, while the notice acknowledged that June had helped produce a family, it also suggested that she hadn’t found joy in those relatives. One brutal extract reads, “We are thankful for the life that was issued forth because of June. We wish she could have appreciated the abundance of life she was given.”
And the harsh tone of the obituary only seemed to escalate from there. One line even claimed that June had “made no contribution to society and [had] rarely shared a kind word or deed in her life.” The so-called tribute also alleged of the late woman, “Drugs were a major love in her life, as June had no hobbies.”
What’s more, the obit’s writer stated that June’s life should serve as a “cautionary tale” to others of how not to behave. Apparently alluding to the matriarch’s personality and habits, the notice continued, “Addiction and hatred are no es bueno for the living.” And the scathing summary of June’s 82 years on the planet didn’t end there.
The obituary then claimed that June’s passing had little effect on her loved ones. One cutting extract reads, “We speak for the majority of her family when we say her presence will not be missed by many. Very few tears will be shed, [and] there will be no lamenting over her passing.”
But despite the negative portrayal of June in the notice, the writer did make an admission that the deceased would be thought about on occasion. The obituary went on, “Her family will remember June. And among ourselves, we will remember her in our own way, which [include] mostly sad and troubling times throughout the years.”
The biting obit continued, “We may have some fond memories of [June]. And perhaps we will think of those times, too. But we truly believe at the end of the day all of us will really only miss what we never had: a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. We hope she is finally at peace.”
Towards the end of the obituary, it’s claimed that June’s death may even have a positive effect on her family. Poignantly, it says, “As for the rest of us left behind, we hope this is the beginning of a time of healing and learning to be a family again.” But the tribute also suggested that the matriarch’s relatives wouldn’t get together in the wake of her death.
The obituary finished by claiming, “There will be no service, no prayers and no closure for the family [June] spent a lifetime tearing apart. We cannot come together, in the end, to see to it that her grandchildren and great-grandchildren can say their goodbyes. Her legacy is written. So, we say here for all of us, ‘Goodbye, Mom.’”
And after the cutting notice appeared in the Cherokee Scout, its contents perhaps unsurprisingly divided opinions among readers. News 13 reporter Stephanie Santostasi also went on to share an image of June’s obituary on Twitter, where she asked for her followers’ thoughts. And the reactions to those scornful words were in fact more varied than you may assume.
Naturally, many people were horrified about the sour nature of June’s obituary, and this prompted one Twitter user to comment, “Even if true, it’s so wrong, unkind [and] just plain mean. I don’t believe it. RIP, June.” Another person simply wrote in response, “How freaking sad.”
Elsewhere, though, others appeared to empathize with the person behind the less-than-gracious obit. One tweeted, for instance, “Don’t know them, don’t know her, don’t know what happened in their lives, but I am going to guess this was very cathartic for someone.” A further commenter wrote, “I can think of a few people like this. Sometimes, people will not be missed. Sometimes, that’s okay.”
Given the attention that June’s obituary received, then, David Brown, the newspaper’s publisher, subsequently chose to defend the Cherokee Scout’s decision to print the tribute. And although Brown wouldn’t disclose who had actually written the scathing notice, he did admit that that “the family’s will [had overridden] the editor” when it came to publishing the controversial piece.
In addition, Brown revealed that while staff at the Cherokee Scout do read each obituary before publishing, they would only edit something if they felt it was absolutely necessary. Meanwhile, in a bid to redress any damage created by the notice, Robert Jr. revealed that he was submitting a new tribute to his mom for publication.
Most pressingly, Robert Jr. wished for June to be remembered as a kind and affectionate person. June’s son did not want all the special times that his mother and father had experienced in Murphy to be tainted by the brutal obituary, either. And, in all likelihood, he may have hoped that his new tribute would serve to rectify things.
With an alternative notice for June in the making, then, it seemed that the Miller family’s ordeal was over. However, that’s when the plot thickened. You see, it emerged that the scathing tribute to the matriarch had seemingly been copied in part from a 2008 death notice in a northern Californian newspaper.
And after Robert Jr. learned that his mother’s obituary had been copied from elsewhere, he stuck by his belief that one of his sisters was responsible. He told Channel 9 News, “Unbelievable. [She] doesn’t even have the integrity to write something for herself. [She] just goes out and steals something… When I first read it, I had a weird suspicion that it didn’t sound like her.”
The original obituary, which had appeared in Vallejo’s Times-Herald, announced the passing of Dolores Aguilar. And when the notice passed over editor Ted Vollmer’s desk, it sure caught his attention. In 2017 he told News Channel 9, “I had edited probably thousands of obituaries up to that point and had written a lot myself… When this one came in, my eyebrows shot up.”
And Dolores’ and June’s obituaries contained a lot of similar material; much of the content of both read exactly the same word for word, in fact. In essence, then, it appeared that swathes of the text of June’s obit had simply been lifted from the earlier tribute and used wholesale. But the question as to who would do such a thing remained.
Mind you, Ted hadn’t just allowed Dolores’ obituary to be published. Instead, prior to the write-up hitting the presses, he had demanded evidence to confirm that it had indeed had come from her family. The editor told News Channel 9, “I asked [the relatives] for a copy of the death certificate or some proof of who [Dolores] was.” And it seems that one of Dolores’ six daughters was subsequently able to authenticate the notice.
It’s not clear if June’s scathing obituary underwent a similar authentication process at the Cherokee Scout. When staff learned that the tribute had been plagiarized, however, they did consider removing it from the newspaper’s website. And although the employees deliberated for a little while, a final decision was ultimately made: the controversial notice was taken down from the internet.
As it turned out, though, there were further similarities between June’s and Dolores’ obituaries than just those identical words. For one, the recounting of Dolores’ life had also caused a stir upon publication. And, as had been the case with June’s obit, one of Dolores’ relatives had also felt that the death notice was too harsh. Ted therefore permitted the late woman’s granddaughter to publish a new announcement – one revealing how her view of her grandmother differed from that portrayed in the first obituary.
The Cherokee Scout made a similar offer to Robert Jr., who had his own tribute to his mother published free of charge. News Channel 9 later revealed that his obituary described June as “a devoted military wife and homemaker” who “made a wicked lemon pound cake.” And, hopefully, it gave her son some comfort to finally put his side of the story forward.