I Believe in Remembering the Dead
I read all of the crime stories in the metro section of the newspaper. I visit cemeteries and rub markings off the tombstones. I make an appointment to watch the movie “The Crow” on Devil’s Night each October to honor the late actor Brandon Lee. And in my spare time, I publish obituaries on the Web.
I believe in remembering the dead.
I was 16 when I wrote my first obituary — a pre-death story for The Lake Worth Herald in South Florida. It was just supposed to be a simple rookie exercise, but when the councilman I’d written about actually died a week later, it became one of my first professionally published clips.
Loss also played a part in my interest in obits. Just before I went away to college, a high school pal died in a car accident. I had been in a serious head-on collision myself two weeks prior so when one of my friends said, “Did you hear about Ainsley Lamalie? She was in a car accident,” I immediately asked how she was doing.
“Her funeral was tonight,” he said.
I was floored. How could I live and she die? The next day, I clipped her paid death notice from The Palm Beach Post and put it in my wallet. It remained there for many years.
During my sophomore year at the University of Miami, my mother sent me a letter. The only thing inside the envelope was the obituary for my high school journalism professor, Ray Villelo. I’d heard through the grapevine about his death from lung cancer, but it didn’t seem real until I saw the news in print.
For the nearly five years I worked at The New York Times on the Web, I produced the obits page every single night. Each story entranced me. Each life made me want to do more with my own.
After breaking the news of Sept. 11th, I spent two years working on the Portraits of Grief, a collection of obits for the victims of the attacks. Producing more than 1,000 obituaries is bound to have an effect on even the most hardened journalist. It made me want to memorialize more people online.
After moving to Seattle in 2003, I launched The Blog of Death. More than 1,500 obits later, my efforts have come to fruition. I’m continually honing my craft, serving the public and building up my reputation as an obituarist. More importantly, I’m making sure the dead are not forgotten.
My death blog also gives the public an opportunity to remember the deceased and post tributes of their own. To date, more than 20,000 people have done so.
I believe in remembering the dead, and it seems I’m not alone.
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