Death and All His Friends

Yesterday I had my second GA shift at the Missourian. And now I’ve got another story out. And it’s an obituary — or, as we call it at the Missourian, a life story.

I thought it would be hard psychologically — it’s never easy for people to talk about their relative who just passed away. Well, actually, it wasn’t hard at all. Frances Marie Colley, the daughter of the man whose obituary I was writing, was very welcoming and willingly told me a lot of stories about her father — how he survived the World War II, how he learned to ride a motorcycle when he was almost 50 years old, what a passionate farmer and a loving father he was. Ms. Colley will probably never read this, but I still would like to thank her for that. She made it a lot easier for me to deal with such a peculiar task.

Strictly speaking, it wasn’t by far my first obituary. But in a sense, it was. And not just because of the language. In Russia I wrote a bunch of obiaturies, but all of them were about famous people, mostly musicians — like Lou Reed or, say, Yegor Letov, one of my favourite Russian psychedelic punk singer-songwriters. And of course, it was a completely different thing. You didn’t have to talk to relatives. You didn’t have to learn anything more about their lives than you already knew. Essentially, these were not so much obituaries, but more like essays about the cultural impact of these musicians, their songs, their lives and their legacy.

This time, however, I had to write about an ordinary man — and by no means I want to say that “ordinary” equals “less important” or “less interesting”. Of course not. Marshall Colley, as it turned out, lived a great life. He survived the war, he was happily married for many years, he raised three children, he worked hard, he was kind to people and helped them whenever he could. As far as I came to understand, he was a great man and he will be remembered. Still, it’s obviously harder to write a good and touching obituary about a farmer from Harrisburg than about, say, Whitney Houston. It’s much more challenging — but I like this challenge (although I’m not completely sure that I was totally successful in addressing it this time). Because being able to see a story where anyone else wouldn’t see it, and being able to find something extraordinary and appealing about any given human being is one of the most important journalistic skills. Basically, that’s the difference between a journalist and everybody else — a journalist sees the world as an endless range of stories that are waiting to be told.

And to finish this story, here’s one the best and deepest songs about death I’ve ever heard.

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