Want to know the truth? I left journalism because I couldn’t write another obituary.
Aside from the long hours, the low pay, and the high mileage logs, I was done writing copy for Page A6. That’s the right page, isn’t it? The Obituaries.
In my time as a journalist, each day brought exciting new adventures. For a daily newspaper, I covered the beats of education, health, and the arts. I’d start out the morning with a strong cup of coffee and an interview with the high school superintendent, and I’d end the day at the local arts center, interviewing the cast of the new musical or going behind the scenes with a famous sculptor.
Small town life left no shortage of surprises. One day, I found myself exploring a Creationist museum built in a man’s basement, where we examined replicas of dinosaur bones. The next, I found myself trudging out to the center of a frozen lake to stand on thick ice, where I watched scuba divers don ropes and take a polar plunge, marking the start of the New Year.
One integral part of every newspaper, however, is the obituaries.
In a small newsroom, we would all chip in to make sure these records of life — and death — were sent to the printer on time. On weekends in particular, I wrote a lot of obituaries. I’d start with a form submission, follow the basic format, and add in any details the family had paid to include. Hours later, an entire human life could be reduced to nothing more than ashes — and words in black and white.
Even when I wasn’t editing the day’s death notices and cutting them down to size, I often found myself chasing ambulances, meeting a toddler who was fighting for his life, or tallying the number of dead in a tornado’s path. Was this really the important news of the day? Was this really what the public needed to read? In my role as a journalist, I strived to be a steward of the people. If they wanted to know how many body bags lined the side of the road at the scene, what caused four helicopter passengers to burn in a fiery crash, or when a two-year-old lost his battle with cancer, I tried my best to report the details.
And my heart broke. A little more each day. A little faster after the passing of each innocent soul.
So, I found a way to keep writing nonfiction in my daily profession, while exploring topics with a more positive light. Now, I work on the other side of the desk, writing factual articles from the arena of public relations. I write about university research, high achievements, and solutions to the world’s problems.
But as the global pandemic rages on, one thing is certain. More people will die.
No one will be spared from our unique hardship. Whether the impacts upon us relate to our health, our finances, our education, our politics, or the losses of our loved ones, I’m pretty sure each of us will feel the impact of this pandemic in the U.S. Don’t believe me? In a rare instance, I was tasked with writing an obituary this summer.* And that doesn’t generally happen in my line of work.
As for me? I’m frightened. I can only hope that those of us who try tirelessly to protect one another — as I do with my mask on my face and my heart on my sleeve — will rub off on those of us who doubt the merits of masks and social distancing.
Businesses are starting back up. Humans are traveling to gather at large events. Schools and universities are opening their classroom doors. It’s my deepest hope that we can keep one another safe, as we embark on this grand experiment to reopen in the midst of a global pandemic.
Whatever happens, I don’t want to write another obituary.
*The obituary I assisted in writing belonged to an elderly faculty emeritus, and no student deaths have been reported to me. Opinions are my own, and not those of my employer(s).