I think it was Samuel Clemens who set the rumors of his death right by saying they were "greatly exaggerated." I like that in a person. I suppose you could fool people by writing your own obituary and describing something more exotic than ordinary death by disease or too many birthdays. Come to think of it, something like that would be right up my alley.
Don't misunderstand this... but I love writing obituaries. Why? It is the one task writers have which is a heavier burden than any other. To try and bring someone back from the dead by describing their life in a limited number of words is not an easy thing. There are none of us who have an ordinary life. Each of us is unique and we leave behind a story unlike any other. Good or bad, our presence in this world is important and meaningful.
The other thing I like about obituaries is that they usually set the record straight when it comes to certain things too many people love to gossip about.
Most will include birth dates, marriages, children, extended family and information about work and hobbies. People love to read these things but they also want to know the cause of death. This is one that I have mixed feelings about. I understand why some folks choose not to divulge this information.>
On the other hand, I can see reasons to include why a person died. In many cases, this has something to do with how they lived but this is not always so. This last message to the world may also be an opportunity to champion a cause of the deceased or to support an organization working to overcome the very disease they died from. Either way, this is where seasoned obituary readers shine. If you don't give them the truth, they'll make something up.
God love 'em. The rumor mongers. I have a hunch they are all over the world.
I should tell you that I spent more than 30 years in the newspaper business and most of those were dedicated to trying to figure out what people wanted to read. After all our efforts were poured into news content and coverage we periodically did surveys to find out how we were doing. Then we cried, shared a group hug and went to the nearest tavern.
Guess what? From Gresham to Cottage Grove and Dallas to Tillamook those surveys said the same things. The number one choice of readers was obituaries. Number two was letters to the editor and editorials. Next up was police records and finally, with the smallest percentage of readers and the loudest voices were those who insisted on MORE coverage of school sports.
There you go. An entire newspaper staff knocked off their desktops by dead people. Why? People aren't really dead in the minds of most of us until we read that obituary. Most folks read them because they just want the chance to meet someone new, find out if they've lost an old friend or celebrate a loved one. They are curious and caring. I'm pretty sure those folks are the same readers who are hooked on police and court records and I do know they read letters to the editor too. They just don't write them.
If you stop and think about it, these are the things that hold us together as a community. Rumors have been around since the dawn of time. I just know those ancient beings fibbed about each other and carved it on walls. This would have been the equivalent of letters to editors and sometimes, editorials. Rumors aside, I tried to write an editorial every week and did a whole lot of fact searching before I wrote a word. Did that help? Damned those rumors. Some people will tell you they are fact.
This week I actually rode in the car into town for a test. I was pretty darned excited about being out. An acquaintance asked if I had been in a bad accident. I assured the person I had not been in an accident. There are four or five women in this county who have the same or a similar name so I worried about them.
Then I thought... dang it. The only accident I've been in for the past few months was when my butt got stuck in a commode. This is such a long story and you really want to hear it but I'm not telling you. Apparently, I've already told the story enough that I am the laughing stock of the commode business around the world... at least, I hope so because I want that in my obit.
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