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Opinion

How do you tell a person’s life story?

Memorializing those who've passed taught me to appreciate those still with us

During my three years with Pipe Dream, I took on the role of the newspaper’s unofficial obituary writer. It’s a strange, macabre title to bear. You would assume it’s a position reserved for the most experienced candidate, and that’s correct to an extent. I have written 10 obituaries — 10 articles commemorating the lives and announcing the deaths of anyone with a connection to Binghamton University. However, death isn’t easy, no matter what the context, and each and every obituary I wrote was just as difficult as the last.

I took my work as an obituary writer more seriously than anything else in my life. Whether it was a retired faculty member or a student who passed too soon, I would lock myself away from the world, neglecting everything until the job was done. What is a late paper compared to a life? Writing a competent obituary required learning the subject’s entire history, everything that made them who they were, in the hopes of capturing a fragment of their soul. I’ve spent hours calling and emailing the family and friends of each person, reaching out to these people during their lowest lows and asking them to talk about it. It’s a difficult job, but nowhere near as hard as what they are going through. You are doing it for them, in the hopes that they find some small solace in the fact that everything that made this person great won’t go unrecognized.

It is the hardest work I have ever done, yet it’s easily the most memorable and rewarding experience of my life. I can still recall their names, faces, personalities, hobbies and achievements. Ten people, each with their own lives, ambitions and dreams. And I remember the families and friends who were just thankful that there was someone interested in writing about their loved ones. I can say without any reservations that I have been honored to get to know about all these people.

There is one lesson I have taken from my time as an obituary writer, something easy to forget during the stress of day-to-day life. People are complex. It’s easy to get caught up in your own little world and forget that there are more than seven billion people just like you, each with their own baggage. It’s easy to dismiss all the strangers in your life, even your friends and family, and get caught up in your own thing. I am more than guilty of adopting this mindset, but I try to remember those 10 people. Despite how well-reported any of my work might have been, it’s impossible to do more than scratch the surface of who someone is. Don’t take the people closest to you for granted and don’t forget that everyone is going through something, even if you don’t know it. That being said, I would like to acknowledge all the people who’ve been there for me.

Mom, Dad and Kat: Thank you for being there, even when I pushed away. I love you.

Eric, Dani, Mike, Chris, Kyle, Deanna, Alvin and Vin: You have all managed to keep me balanced on that thin, thin line between sane and not. It’s been pretty great.

Christina, Paige, Ari, Darian, Mikey, Kendy and the rest of the Pipe Dream geezers: You all made the office a second home for me and I am glad to have had such a wonderful family to fill it.

Rachel and Nick: You are going to be amazing. Keep it up so I can keep bragging about you two.

To anyone I haven’t mentioned by name: I have a word count, forgive me.

To those of you still reading, thank you. I hope that you found my own experiences interesting at the very least and I ask that you take my message to heart. It’s easy to be the apathetic, but I believe we are better than that.

Views expressed in the opinion pages represent the opinions of the columnists.