The man who wrote an excoriating obituary of his own mother, so brutal that it went viral following her death last week, has revealed the abandonment, abuse and heartache that lay behind his and his sister’s decision to publish the notice.
The obituary for Kathleen Dehmlow, 80, appeared in the Redwood Falls Gazette last week and told how the Minnesota woman ‘abandoned her children’ to be raised by their grandparents when she became pregnant by her husband’s brother.
It stated: ‘She passed away on May 31, 2018 in Springfield and will now face judgment.’
The obituary said that she would not be missed by the children she abandoned and that, ‘this world is a better place without her’.
Speaking exclusively to DailyMail.com Army veteran and former professional boxer Jay Dehmalo, 58, explained why he and his older sister, Gina, 60, had felt moved to publish such an obituary.
‘You can’t believe the dysfunction of the family,’ said Dehmalo, who now lives in Avon Lake, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. ‘They’ll never know what we went through but it helped us [to write this]. We wanted to finally get the last word.’
It was Gina’s idea to write the obituary when she learned from a cousin that her mother was on her deathbed.
She had no desire to see her but asked for a picture that was duly published along with the words penned by her brother.
The obituary, which ultimately appeared exactly as he wrote it, was actually rejected by one Springfield newspaper on the grounds that it was too offensive to print.
After publication in print and online, it was deleted late Tuesday from the Redwood Falls Gazette’s website and from legacy.com, where it had also appeared.
But according to Dehmalo – who changed his last name to distance himself from his past and his family – his mother’s abandonment was so complete that childhood friends have reached out to him on reading the obit shocked to discover his mother wasn’t already dead.
He said: ‘I’ve got calls from buddies who’ve said, “We didn’t know she’d left you. We thought she’d died in a car crash or something”.’
Dehmalo, a father of one, admitted that he and his sister Gina had had ‘reservations’ about going through with the obituary – conscious that it could stir up the ill feeling that has clearly stalked this family through the decades.
Kathleen’s surviving sister, Judy, has told DailyMail.com that her nephew’s obituary was ‘nasty’ and had ‘hurt the family tremendously’.
‘Why do people want to talk about it?’ she asked. ‘It’s not important.’
But for Dehmalo and his sister, who now lives in Florida, it was, he said, very important that some portion of the truth should emerge after being hidden for years.
He said: ‘Not important? Sure. They have no idea what we went through and back then, in the ’50s and ’60s, nobody talked about anything.’
The picture Dehmalo paints in broad brushstrokes is of a broken, dysfunctional childhood as he and his sister were pushed from pillar to post before being taken in by their maternal grandparents.
He said: ‘You could write it all down in a book or turn it into a movie and people wouldn’t believe what we went through.’
Gertrude and Joseph Schunk took the siblings in after their mother became pregnant by her husband Dennis’s younger brother, Lyle.
According to an insider close to the family neither Kathleen nor Gina and Jay’s father, Dennis, were adequate parents.
Lyle Schunk, Joseph’s godson and another extended relative to the family, told DailyMail.com that both Dennis and Kathleen liked to ‘drink and party’.
He said: ‘They took them in because Kathleen was evidently an unfit mother or something. Kathleen liked to drink as well, she liked to party as well.’
By his own admission Dehmalo said that he and his sister were ‘bad kids’ at times and Gina’s troubles seem to have followed her into adulthood as she has twice been convicted of domestic violence and battery.
But Dehmalo – a father of one – insisted that, however fraught their upbringing and early adulthood were, both he and his sister loved their grandparents, Joseph and Gertrude Schunk.
He said that hurt deeply when he and Gina were left out of his grandfather’s obituary when he died in 1981.
He said: ‘They left us out because they were mad at me because I’d borrowed money from my grandparents and I hadn’t paid them back.
‘It’s true. I’d borrowed $200 from my grandfather and I didn’t pay him back. He loved us but I was a typical teenager growing up.’
According to Dehmalo, rivalries and ill feeling were only heightened by the fact that he and his sister inherited ‘a couple of thousand dollars’ on their grandparents’ deaths.
He said, ‘They [the rest of their children and grandchildren] thought that the inheritance was for them. I have never met such small minded people in my life.’
Dehmalo said that his relationship with his relatives was characterized by petty jealousy and spite.
He said: ‘If I got a new pair of pants or a new bike, I was being spoiled. It was unbelievable.’
Dehmalo and Gina were left to guess the details of their mother’s life and piece together vast portions of it years later.
They did not know that they had two half-brothers out of Kathleen’s union with Lyle until several years after the boys’ births.
To add insult to injury, Dehmalo said that while he and his sister were unhappily abandoned in Minnesota their mother was, ‘off having a great life in California with her other kids’.
He said, ‘We didn’t have so much as a card from her. I remember she came home twice and on one occasion she was showing pictures of her and her kids playing cards, drinking beers…
‘Gina and I were standing in the room, just standing there and she didn’t even acknowledge us. It’s like we didn’t exist.
‘How can you do that to your own children? That’s when we knew we had to get the hell out of Minnesota.’
Their mother returned in her last years to Minnesota, after Lyle died in California in 2008, aged 71. Dennis died in Washington State in 2016.
Dehmalo credits the Army and boxing with ‘saving him’. Gina is now married and living in Florida where she works as a cleaner. Things have not been easy.
But both are glad to have published their truth about their mother. They would, they say, do it all over again.
Dehmalo said: ‘We knew there would be backlash but it really has helped us to finally get the last word.’