Dana Martin Writing

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Dana Martin Writing

Diary of an obit writer

You didn't choose me

Dear Families: I want you to know that I cry over your loved one. From the time I leave our interview, even if I’m able to hold it together for the 90 minutes spent talking to you, I break down the second I get alone in my car.

Your extraordinary grief transfers to me.

I cry hard sometimes. I release everything I held in while you were tearfully telling me about your mom, son, husband, wife—biting the inside of my cheek to keep from making a bad situation worse. And you should know that I talk to your loved one my entire drive home. I tell them how much they were loved and are missed. And I thank them for making sure I was the one charged with drafting their story.

You see, families, you didn’t choose me as the writer of your loved one’s obituary. I’d like to think God did. He’s the one who blessed me with the ability to write just about anything, and lately, His “God breeze” has blown me toward families grieving losses that came too soon. Way too soon.

I’m not an obituary writer by trade, nor have I had any formal training. I don’t advertise that I write them. I don’t take money for it. I didn’t go to school for it, and I never did any research on the craft beyond reading the newspaper to see how obituaries were put together.

And I did that on the morning my dad passed away.

His was my first obituary. My own dad. My mother, being the world’s most efficient manager of life, had his funeral and burial arranged, and—because of me—had his obituary written before he’d been gone 11 hours. That’s right; while I was in a 10am college class trying to focus on a midterm, in the back of my mind I knew I had to write my dad’s story by the 2pm newspaper deadline.

Talk about baptism by fire.

I don’t usually tell people that I write obituaries. To be honest, I’d rather be writing children’s books and trying to find any word that rhymes with zombie or Halloween than write an obituary.

No words rhyme with those, so you get the point.

On one hand, obituaries are emotionally draining. I find myself weeping over the keyboard as I detail the traits of your loved one and think about the monumental loss to your family. I type with tears streaming down my face to the point sometimes where I can’t see. In fact, my tears are a litmus test of sorts: If I don’t cry, I haven’t hit the mark yet.

I consider each obituary I write a challenge to craft a story for you so perfect that nobody knows a total stranger wrote it, so I put immense pressure on myself to use all the right words. You’re already going through an unimaginable loss with dark days ahead, so it’s my job to make at least this go smoothly.

But, on the other hand, I am always positive that I’m the only one for the job. I feel blessed that I was chosen to get to know your family and to get to tell your loved one’s story. I know Who assigned the task to me, too, and I consider that a gift.

Recently on a walk, I heard a sermon called, “Use it or Lose it.” In it, the pastor reminds us that if we are really good at something, it’s a gift God has invested in us, and… He’d like a return on it.

That’s where you come in. I never know when I’ll be called to write one or for whom, but I can’t pay Him back without you.

So, whether you reached out to me or I offered my services to you, you should know that neither of us had anything to do with it.

Writing an obituary is a silent promise to describe a stranger’s life as if you knew them intimately—depicting them through the eyes of the loved ones they left behind.

And I do it. Gladly. Just pass the tissue, please.

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Dana Martin Writing

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