MY TURN: A life message that resonates loud and clear


The obit.

For those getting their start in the newspaper business, the task of writing an obituary can prove to be a deadly rite of passage to stories of greater consequence.

My first obit assignment involved a middle-aged man in his working prime who was tragically killed in an industrial accident at a local manufacturing plant. The details surrounding his death were particularly grisly and had to be told in the context of a "breaking news" story that set the stage for the more conventional obit that would serve as the accounting of his life.

As first assignments go, it was an especially difficult test, highlighted by the need to produce the combo story/obit under deadline pressure. Adding to the challenge was the need to call the man's widow, who was just one day removed from receiving news that shook her to the core.

Fortunately for me, she couldn't have been more gracious and accommodating, answering question after question about his life, the circumstances surrounding his death, and the necessary details about his funeral service, memorial designations, and the list of survivors.

Through it all, the lengthy phone interview revealed an underlying theme: He was a good man, whose life was inexplicably cut short by a manufacturing malfunction that would haunt those involved for years to come.

An accident also would claim the life of another exceedingly good person, in this case a University of Colorado freshman who was killed in a car crash outside of Denver last month. Her obit appeared in The New York Times several weeks ago, catching my eye because of the photo that otherwise was out of place with all the other pics accompanying the death notices appearing in the Sunday edition.

Her name was Sophia and she would have celebrated her 19th birthday in May had she not been the lone victim of a crash in which several other of her friends were miraculously spared. After reading the story of her life, one could only wonder why "bad things" continue to happen to such "good" people.

The author of her obit captured the essence of a young woman who was a "lover of life," someone who embodied sweetness and compassion.

"Sophia was like sunshine," according to her obit. "Her smile was infectious. She was always up for the next adventure. She was the true life of the party. She had a love and compassion for people and animals. She was in awe and inspired by the natural beauty of this earth and the night-time sky."

She also was a "dancer," a "cabin girl," a "family girl," loving her cousins "with all her heart." She, in turn, had a "deep connection with her grandparents, her aunts, and her uncles. She was a friend girl. She fiercely loved her friends. She was a true Minnesota girl: kind and grounded."

Yes, "most of all, more than anything in this world, Sophia loved connecting with all the people in her life. She is universally described by her people as someone who brightened them up by her mere presence. This was her gift to us."

In her absence, Sophia's family pledged to "live life consciously" as a fitting tribute to their dear departed.

"To say 'yes' to every opportunity to enjoy this precious life," they wrote in her obituary. "To take the time to enjoy the sunrises and the sunset we are offered each day and to look for the best in people and truly love each other deeply and with joy and not dwell on our faults. She would want us all to linger in the mountains, at the beach, in the woods, by the campfire, and on the dance floor. To honor her and her life, we will."

If so, what a world it can be.