More than 30 years ago, I worked for the Toledo Blade. Although I technically was assigned to the City Desk, my designated “beat” was writing obituaries. Day after day, I took calls from funeral homes, interviewed grieving survivors to get facts about the departed, and then wrote the obituary as a news story. During my six months at the Blade, I wrote hundreds of them. It was not an uplifting job.
That long-ago job, though, has ever since defined my role when there is a death in our family. My task is set — and it is a good thing. Everyone wants to be useful and helpful when death comes calling, and writing the obituary (which most newspapers now treat not as a news story, but as a paid death notice) is something I know how to do. You wouldn’t want me figuring out flower arrangements, but the obit I can handle.
I also remember an experience that occurred years ago, when my grandmother died. The minister who presided over her service kept calling her by the wrong name — which as you can imagine was not well-received by the members of our family. Ever since, I’ve vowed that when members of our family who have died are formally remembered, whether in print or in remarks, someone who actually knew them will help to do the writing or the talking.
When I write an obit for a family member, I always think about what made the person unique, and try to make sure that gets included along with the standard facts about age, education, and survivors. If I do my job right, when I’m finished I always feel a bit closer and more connected to the loved one who has gone beyond. That’s a good thing, too.