Every life story should be told, remembered

Feb. 09, 2013 @ 05:07 AM

Whether you read the newspaper in print or online, there is one news item that always garners the most attention.

Obituaries — they are one of the most read item in any newspaper.

Believe it or not, every day I read the obituaries. Since I’m the new kid in town, the obituaries I am reading in The Daily Courier are people I have never met. Of course, reading about someone’s death is sad and that part I don’t relish. 

There’s another way to look at it. An obituary is often the last and final story of a person’s life. Sometimes it is the only printed story there is.

I am amazed at what I have been reading since my arrival in Rutherford County.

Some obituaries tell of the pioneer-spirited folks who homesteaded or ventured to the area to carve out a living. There are stories of women who worked at home and raised large families and tales of young men who left small town living behind to fight during World War II or other military conflicts.

Some tell of other lifestyles, like working in the textile or furniture mills or going to college to become a teacher.

When I started in the newspaper business 30 years ago, my first job was writing obituaries. To tell the truth, I kind of liked it.

I recall writing an obituary I wrote many years ago about a woman who didn’t marry until late in life, but held prominent jobs throughout the country and traveled extensively. She did all of that prior to 1930. 

Another obit I recall writing was of a woman World War II veteran. At age 21, with only six months left to graduate from college in December of 1941, she quit when Pearl Harbor was attacked. She joined the Navy and became a WAVE. She was assigned to Naval intelligence because she could speak the Slavic languages and many mornings she was part of the national security team that briefed President Franklin D. Roosevelt. After the war she came back to her hometown to start a small weekly newspaper.

I written obituaries about war veterans, doctors, teachers, beauticians and artists. These people become real to me because they are someone’s mother, father, grandparent, brother, sister, aunt or uncle.

Some obituaries are short and some are long, but length has no bearing on content.

Many tell stories of individual struggles, hardships and failures. They also include accomplishments, joys, proud moments and successes.

Every single obituary tells a story of a life. Each life is interesting. On occasion when I do know the person, I’m always surprised there are things about their life that I don’t know. Others are total strangers to me.

It’s when reading the obituaries of people I do not know that I often regret that I didn’t have the opportunity to meet these people, and perhaps tell their story while they are alive. 

It is also a shame that families in their time of sorrow are faced with compiling the life story of their loved one when there is always so little time, so much to remember and so many other things to do. It is a difficult task. Perhaps there are other things, prior to the survivor’s existence, that they don’t now about this person.

In this same situation, I found myself wishing I had listened more and paid better attention to my grandparents when they were alive. There have been some great story tellers in my family. Now that they are gone, their stories are gone too.

During my lifetime, I have written many obituaries. Some of the hardest to write were for family members or people I have known. 

About a month before my father died, he and I sat down to write his obituary. While he wanted to keep his obituary rather simple, but he wanted to include one very special item. His proudest moment wasn’t the farming conservation awards he won nor that he served in the Army Air Corps during World War II. Rather, his proudest moment was to witness the college graduation of each of his four children. 

If have often said everyone should write their own obituary because they are the expert on the subject. My first writing assignment in my college journalism class was to write our own obituary. A bit mortified by the assignment, I still managed to pen something of a creative masterpiece, not knowing how my life would unfold in the years ahead. 

Is there a moral to this column? Yes, and it’s this: Don’t forget to tell your family about the important things you value in your life. Your greatest treasures in life, maybe those untold stories you haven’t shared. So get crackin’ and start sharing your stories with those you love.


Wanda Moeller is the publisher of The Daily Courier. She can be reached at wmoeller@thedigitalcourier.com