Monday, July 2, 2012

Loss and saying goodbye

I am almost afraid to read the paper these days. It seems every time I do, there is someone I know listed in the obituaries. It is always a shock, accompanied by varying degrees of personal sadness.

During those times, I have to fight the urge to interview family members and friends to construct a story to memorialize them. I had written such stories for so long. In all my years writing for a newspaper, memorials were always one of my least favorite stories to write. They were difficult because they were so important. As the last comments ever said about a person, those stories almost always had an impact. They were so positive. Something can be said in those final moments after death about every person, whether they lead the life of a celebrity or are a homeless recluse. Every person has a story. Everybody does something well. Often times, that final story is the only time a person's name ever appears in a newspaper.

I didn't write about every person who died in our town, but I wrote about those who were prominent members of the community. Stories memorializing the deceased was also warranted if a death accompanied a news event, such as an accident or other tragic circumstance. I also wrote about people I knew to be special.

Most newspapers have their own policy regarding obituaries and death notices. It was through those guidelines that I learned the mechanics of writing them. As the years went on though, I realized how invaluable they were to grieving families. They were always clipped and saved. They deserved effort. Nearly every one of the stories I wrote became personal to me. I put my heart and soul into them. I often cried when I wrote them. If I knew the person who died and was fond of them, I often wrote the words straight from my heart, because I too was saying goodbye. 

The memories and feelings that are conjured up by a person's death, at least for me, come from a place beyond my conscious mind. Just seeing a name or a picture can awaken emotions that I may have not even known were there. It is almost like that little sound you make when you are startled. You hear it, and know it came out of you, but you have no idea how, why, or where it came from. 

This morning I read an obituary for a woman that I knew. Had I still lived there, I would have certainly written about her. She was a good, caring woman who was always helpful to others; she was a volunteer who devoted her time and energy to causes she believed in. She was feisty and funny. Truthfully, she was no  more than an acquaintance, but there was something about her warm smile and a good-natured heart. I admired her spunk. Rest in peace Barb Oliver.
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