Monday, March 23, 2009
I think I probably read more obituaries than the average person my age. They're mostly the obituaries of patients I have known. For the most part they are very similar. I've always appreciated the ones that are more creative. I've never thought of them as a form of art and I never really thought about who was writing them (don't families write them sometimes?). I recently discovered the Society of Professional Obituary Writers (SPOW), an "organization created for folks who write about the dead for a living."
I must admit, my first thought was, why? Is there a society for those journalists that write for every other section of the paper? But after perusing their website, their cause became more clear. "We want those who write articles about the recently deceased to regard obituaries as once-in-a-lifetime stories that should be researched, reported and penned with as much care and attention as any other newsroom assignment." Oh my! Well put. Could obituary writers be to journalism what palliative care is to medicine? I suddenly feel very sympathetic to the plight of the obituary writers.
Every year SPOW gives out awards for the best obituaries in different categories, such as Average Joe, Celebrity and even Broadcast media. Since I discovered their website, I've devoted some time to reading some of the award winning obituaries about people I've never met. I have been trying to appreciate them more as an art form, a work of nonfiction. I was amazed by how clear a picture some of these gifted journalists could paint even though I didn't know the subject of the articles.
Below is an excerpt from Fair Thee Well, Ex-Father-In-Law by Daniel Asa Rose (from Obit) which won for the Best Tribute/Memoir/Column (Long):
"So it's easy, is it not? To pick up where you left off. There is no earthly reason to stop communicating with a man just because you divorced his daughter, no reason in the world not to keep the dialogue going ad infinitum. Except one. For this bullying bruiser who was going to live to be 100 suddenly dropped, just like that. Before I could send off my package, this unstoppable man with his burly chest and nasty brilliance was cut down, the private nurse un-caught, the hurtful snare drum of a laugh shut down at last. I had meant to pick up where we left off: Now we were just leaving off. Wesley Love died, and what was music and what was not would have to wait some later debate.
Here's to you, ex-father-in-law. I'm sorry we never recognized each other for what we were. Probably you were not the ogre I thought, just a mortal straining to suck in your gut in your canary yellow La Coste shirt. I was just a kid trying to lock horns with one of the big guys. Why didn't we know that then? Why aren't we all more gentle with each other now?"
Although it's too long to post here, I appreciated Carol Smith's article (which won for Best Average Joe Obit Short) Dying vet planned a final mission.
So to all you obituary writers out there, my proverbial hat goes off to you. You do important work and I hope you have the appreciation and respect that you deserve.