Death can be a delicate topic, and everyone has their personal way of dealing with it.
Having grown up with a newspaper father, we learned at a young age that people can die at any time from anything. Often, we would hear him announce to us that “I’m going to see a dead man.” Or “I’m going to see a dead woman” before he drove away to the funeral home for a wake or viewing.
I know that sounds unusual, but for small children, it was enough — simple and to the point in classic newspaper reporter style.
That is why it gives me pause when people avoid placing an obituary in the newspaper. For example, I received a phone call from a grieving daughter recently. Her mother, a former Nashua resident, had passed away at the age of 95. During her long life, she had been a successful businesswoman, an active person in her community and an incredibly kind and true friend to our family.
But considering her age and that most of her friends were no longer alive, her daughter told me that she would not be sending an obit to the newspapers.
I was quietly taken aback but would never judge a family on how they wish to bury their own. I understand.
Imagine an interesting aspect I just discovered about our late family friend. I was searching online about her from the funeral home that handled her burial. There was a brief obit printed on the website that mentioned her job with the Army Ordnance in Nashua many years ago. She was “a detonator inspector who reported her weekly findings to the Boston Headquarters until WWII ended.”
I was fascinated by this tiny detail and the important role she had played in the larger fabric of life considering that the United States just marked the start of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
And I am sure many others acquainted with her family would have been as equally surprised by her accomplishments had they been printed in the newspaper.
Ask most folks, and I believe many will tell you that they check out the obit section of their local newspaper. You don’t want to go there, but you do. Although an obituary is sad, it is also a permanent tribute, a celebration of someone’s life. The printed word does matter, especially in this case.
Here in New Hampshire, and I believe in most of the United States, there is no law that requires that the notice of a person’s death be printed in any newspaper. I didn’t know that; I had just assumed that a death is a public record and belonged in a newspaper where people can read about the residents in their community.
Large newspapers like The New York Times have obituary writers who pen them all day long. Newly retired, Margalit Fox was considered one of the best at her craft. She looks at the passing of every individual in this way. Fox believes that “obits have a way of making even the most ordinary person seem interesting.”
In the documentary “Obit” about the famous Times obituary desk, Fox notes that newspaper obits are about a person’s life, their hobbies, achievements, career, etc. Only a sentence or two is mentioned about the person’s passing, she says. The rest of the paragraphs show you how the individual lived.
“While death may take our loved ones away, the obituary is a way to bring them back.”