Today was a depressing day… but in a good way.
This morning in our Missourian lecture, we watched a film on a New York Times journalist who covered heart-renching situations like genocide and disease. While it was incredibly difficult to sit through (especially in the really gruesome moments), it was inspiring to see a journalist go into the field and find different angles to get people to actually care about topics outside of the U.S.
When I got back to my GA shift, Liz gave me my first life story. I’ve done obituaries before, but never one where I had to actually call the family members. Like I said, it was a pretty morbid day. To be honest, I was scared out of my mind. My greatest fear was that they didn’t know the person had passed away. But, luckily the chances of that happening were slim considering the woman I was to call was the deceased man’s wife. I just didn’t want to be the journalist who had to bother someone at such a personal time. I didn’t want to hurt anybody or say the wrong thing.
Eventually, I called her. It was hard at first. When I explained why I was calling the line got very quiet. After a few moments she started asking me how I got her number and why I wanted to do this. I explained (pausing before saying the word “obituary”) that we had received an… obituary… and wanted to do a life story to memorialize him. Then, I broke the ice with a dumb blonde moment: she was going to call me back after discussing the life story with her children and I asked “do you want my number?” and she burst out laughing – which was a relief – saying, “well how else would I call you back?” I felt stupid but, it got her to smile and that made me feel a bit better.
After that, I ended up talking to both her and her daughter on the phone together. They recalled all these adorable memories of their husband/father which really helped me understand who he was. Towards the end, it got hard. I asked if there was anything else they would like him to be remember as – anything else they wanted me to add. The wife told me “Words cannot describe what he means to me. He’s half of me. He’s my best friend.” and started crying. I thanked her for her help and hung up. I got up, went outside and wiped away my tears. I couldn’t imagine losing my dad and to hear someone who had just lost their husband two days ago choke back tears over the phone broke my heart. At this point, I didn’t want to be a journalist. I didn’t want to write about someone else’s pain. I wanted to hug my parents and tell them how much I love them.
But that’s when it hit me. No, I couldn’t bring him back but I could write a touching life story, for this family, for these wives and daughters and sons who had lost someone they love. I wanted readers to feel like they knew him, I wanted them to care about this man. I hope I succeeded.