Community Journalism, Writing

Precious memories, how they linger

It’s not often that I cover a funeral.

Most times, when a notable figure passes away, we write something up from what we already know and what’s in the obituary. But today, on freelance assignment for the Shopper-News, I broke that rule.

We’re in a weird position in the newspaper business. We get to know folks, but mostly as outsiders, not as active participants in their lives. We watch their successes and failures, watch kids move from spelling bee winners to valedictorians. And then, at some point, we are there to record it when they die.

You can see the lady’s obituary here. Of the government officeholders I’ve known over the years, she was one of the best. She was always upbeat. She worked hard. She volunteered, a lot. She took in foster children.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried in that funeral, sitting in the back corner and hoping no one would notice me taking notes. There was a weight on my chest as I remembered all the other obits I’ve written, all the other funerals I’ve attended. It’s easy to forget in this biz that our subjects are real people, with real lives and real histories, real loved ones. I wept because I felt I hadn’t done them justice, hadn’t delved deep enough into who they are.

The lady’s father got up to speak, and he quoted a Baptist hymn I hadn’t heard in a long time, “Precious Memories.” The lyrics are here. Funny that it’s such a traditional hymn, but it hardly mentions God.

Anyway, that’s how I feel community journalists should look on the folks they cover. We need to cherish all these memories, like we’re caretakers of anecdotes and moments. That time he gave the message at the prayer breakfast. That time she danced at the fish fry. That charity she started. That bunny costume he wore at the Easter egg hunt.

Yep, “in the stillness of the midnight, precious, sacred scenes unfold.”

 

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