Irreverent obituary is center of attention, just as Burleson woman was

Debby Lynn Gross kept Burleson laughing for most of her 45 years.

Now, she's having the last laugh on us all.

Ten days after Gross' death, radio stations are reading her hilarious Sunday obituary notice, and bloggers are e-mailing it around the world.

We knew her obituary was different from the beginning: "Forgo the bad organ music and somber routine."

The notice told friends to "stir it up and laugh" at a memorial Saturday morning in Fort Worth: "She expects old-fashioned home-cookin' funeral food! If you try to sneak chain-restaurant brown gravy or powdered potatoes into the party, we will hurt you. Also, please don't ask when you can pick up your covered dishes. We're keeping them!"

And that was only the first paragraph.

For 10 paragraphs and $1,180 worth of Sunday newspaper space, sister Toni Lewis wrote about Gross' life as an expert storyteller, entertainer, general wiseacre and perpetual center of attention for the Underwood and Gross families.

"Her vivid and imaginative tall tales usually combined pieces of personal experience with outlandish redneck wisdom," Lewis wrote with Gross' help days before she died after a failed surgical attempt to reverse heart damage.

Next came a word I've never seen in an obituary:

"Most [of her] stories, both real and humorous, began with 'You ain't gonna believe this s---!'"

Gross lived in Cape Girardeau, Mo., for the last five years after spending most of her life in Burleson, where she worked for an orthodontists clinic.

Lewis said Gross knew she had a 50-50 chance of surviving surgery and had already written farewell letters.

"She was very specific about how she wanted everything," Lewis said.

"She specifically hated the somber, droning pomp and circumstance of funeral notices. She wanted something funny."

Lewis gathered her notes and wrote a first draft.

"She knew the exact verbiage," Lewis said.

Some family members weren't laughing. One said the notice reflected badly on the family.

"But anybody can read it and know Debby liked poking fun at herself," Lewis said.

The family has had more than 200 phone calls, e-mails and Facebook comments from strangers.

"Little old ladies with the sweetest voices have called saying they wish they had known Debby," Lewis said.

Another paragraph: "She loved to be in the know at the center of gossip, conflict or tragedy. ... She had a knack for 'stirring the pot' for comedic effect."

She definitely did that.

"Honey, she would be loving this," Lewis said. "She's in heaven right now enjoying this attention."

If only she could tell us more stories.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538

Twitter @budkennedy

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