With more than 20 years under my belt here at the Observer, and just over 40 years in the metro media altogether, I have from time to time been instructed to write a particular story for one reason or another.
Truth be told, I often find my own stories and need little direction to bring them to life.
But a recent request — the first of its kind — gave me reason to pause.
A friend of many years asked me to write her obituary. How macabre, eh?
Writing about people who have passed, such as my story on the late Ralph “Bud” Bentley last Sunday, can be a challenge — especially if I didn’t know the person, as in Bentley’s case. But it’s a tougher assignment when I actually knew the person.
And, as time goes on, obviously more people I have known have met their demise.
But this woman has yet to pass, and, of course, neither she nor I are looking forward to it. In fact, what if I beat her to it? It’s not a contest, but nothing is a given, and even less so during this nightmarish pandemic.
She sounded a lot better when the two of us met last week, which is good, because she has been having some health concerns and sounded almost if she’d been knocking on heaven’s door when she passed along this request a few months ago.
We chatted in her living room, with my mind flashing back to having attended estate sales, which I wrote about in these pages, and how surreal those can be. This was, too, watching her puppy serenely sleeping in a comfy basket on the floor and listening to my friend recount her life.
When someone of “significance” passes away in a community — in this case, Rio Rancho — I am often the staff writer who tackles the assignment of gathering pertinent information about that person’s life and seeking comments from others who knew said person.
An obituary, per se, is basically a notice about a person’s passing, with his/her birth date, date of death, a short summary of his/her life and then when services will be held. I plan to pen my own and have it on a flashdrive for my better half, because I’m the writer in the family.
Just as I enjoy walking through cemeteries, I enjoy reading the obituaries every Sunday in the Albuquerque Journal, and am often saddened, sometimes frustrated, when I read of someone who lived in Rio Rancho who had a cool life — played a professional sport, was in a dance band years ago, traveled to both poles, etc. — and wished I could have met that person and written a story while he/she was still alive.
Then, there are the too-short obits: Date of death, date of birth, services information. I find myself wondering why a family member or friend couldn’t have provided a bit more information.
Yes, I know obituaries are paid items, so that’s a consideration, and I told my friend this was also key. And a feature story later would be lengthy — and free.
I wrote this phantom obituary the next day and emailed it to her, suggesting she put it somewhere where it could be found upon her demise: On a flashdrive in an envelope on a desk or on the refrigerator, or on an easy-to-find folder on her computer’s desktop.
She even offered to pay me. No, I said, you’re a friend — I don’t need any money for this deed.
I’m in no hurry to see “my work” appear in a newspaper, updated with her date of death. Ten or 20 years might be too soon to see it in print, although I know if, unfortunately, she were to pass away while I’m still employed at the Observer, there would be a great feature story on her in these pages.
So here’s to life, because we all know where it ends. May your obituary sum up your life and tell others you lived a good life.