Columns, Opinion

Writing about death

Looking back to August, when I was told that I was responsible for editing the obituaries we receive and making sure they got published online in Associated Press style, I remember thinking, “Wow, what a sad responsibility.”

In particular because I tend to enjoy the “good news.”

I am the features editor, which typically involves the human interest stories, those in the community who stand out in what they’re doing or those more under the radar but still make a positive change.

I’ve only really understood obituaries to be about those who have died and death was far from what I wanted to cover.  From one of the first obituaries I received, I quickly found out how unique and special this opportunity was going to be.

If anything, obituaries are less about death and so much more about the qualities of those who have died — their families, hobbies, awards and leisure activities. I have learned about past teachers, students, parents, siblings and more. The ones taken from us have led such extraordinary and full lives.

People were passionate about cooking and gardening. They enjoyed spending time with their animals, children and family. Some were super involved in their religion. Others had a list of various volunteer activities they had done. They were loved and appreciated by their family, friends and community.

Every time I read an obituary, I wonder if the person who died was ever told these positive things.

It matters what we tell people when they are with us; simple reminders of their everyday actions and how they do make a difference will inspire them to keep living life to the fullest.

I also find the ages interesting. Most of the time, those who have died are older and it was a natural cause. Occasionally I have gotten some obituaries about middle-aged and younger adults.

Specifically this semester, there have been more student deaths than I have ever recalled and we have written many stories about them. These aren’t obituaries, these are remembrances of them. It is a humbling experience to get to reach out to those who were close with them. It is also sad.

The first student death I covered was that of Randy Diltz. He was in the digital media production program, as am I, but I never knew him.

I’d like to think we are a tight-knit department, but once I began learning more about Randy I felt like I wasn’t doing well enough getting to know students younger than me.

I got to talk to Randy’s uncle, a close friend, a mentor he had back in St. Louis and one of his professors at UCM.

Each of them spoke so effortlessly about Randy and his character.

Randy wasn’t the only student we lost. For each student, other people shared good stories about them. Each of them have been special and had their own story. So I ask you, next time you see a story about a death, read past the headline. Everyone has a story and they deserve to be read.

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