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Tell loved ones how you feel before it's too late

May 22, 2010|By MEG PARTINGTON

I used to think obituaries were depressing.

In my early 20s, while doing an internship at The Meadville (Pa.) Tribune, one of my tasks was to type the short biographies of those no longer on this Earth. To me, they were sad reminders of lives lost.

Jump ahead 20-plus years and my perspective has significantly changed. Now, I view them as stories about how people embraced life. I suppose it's because I've lost several relatives, neighbors and fellow church members since then and have a more mature handle on the value of life.

On the nights I work at The Herald-Mail, I often edit obituaries, a responsibility I've come to enjoy. I find them fascinating glimpses into the lives of people from all over the region and from all walks of life.

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Every Sunday on the obituary page, The Herald-Mail runs A Life Remembered, a profile about someone who died recently. And every day that we publish, we run obituaries about all sorts of people, from ordinary to exceptional, who in life might not have had anything in common, but in death share an instant bond.

There are truck drivers, painters, sports enthusiasts and homemakers. There are those who volunteered in the community and those who held political office. There are pioneers in various realms, lifelong farmers and those whose families wanted them remembered for their faith.

Some fought long battles with illnesses, while others led long, healthy lives. Some were old, some far too young.

In recent months, the death notices of local residents shared the same page with stories about the passing of entertainment legends Lynn Redgrave, who died May 2, and Lena Horne, who died May 9. No life story on those pages was any less important. Each person touched the lives of others in some way; the words written about them proclaim that fact.

My hope is that those who composed the words for their loved ones' obituaries had a chance to speak them to those people before they died.

I have never forgotten a tribute paid in June 1996 to a beloved Berkeley County, W.Va., radio broadcaster.

Ray Osbourne died in September of that year after a storied life immersed in Little League and color commentary on all kinds of sports for WEPM in Martinsburg, W.Va. His radio comrades knew his time was short, so they held a "Ray Day" at Martinsburg Mall.

The place was packed with people and emotion. Osbourne surely knew after that what a positive impact he had made.

I'm not saying every person needs or wants that much fanfare. But everyone needs to know that they matter, that people love them.

During a recent visit to my parents' home near Syracuse, N.Y., my father shared copies of the eulogies delivered by two of his nephews at their mother's funeral. The words combined humor, sadness and nostalgia, a common mix at such life-changing times.

I told my father that while I love to write, I dread the day I might be asked to pen such reflections in memory of my parents. But after mulling the thought for a while, I can't imagine tackling a more honorable assignment.

What I didn't say to my father is that I hope I have the courage to tell both of them what a positive impact they have made on my life before their time on this planet is done. Our relationships have been far from perfect, but what bonds that matter ever are?

I encourage all of you reading this to tell someone today how wonderful they are. You will bring beauty to their day and will never have to lament about positive words left unspoken.

Then, when his or her life is over, pen a fitting biography for the obituary page so the rest of us can get a sample of that wonderfulness.

Meg H. Partington is assistant city editor of The Herald-Mail Co. She can be reached Sunday through Tuesday at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or by e-mail at megp@herald-mail.com">megp@herald-mail.com.

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