‘All lives writ big’

Every year at the end of December our metro newspaper presents the year in review by listing the deaths of selected individuals. The roll call for some of the people who died in 2016 listed 73 individuals, most of whom were in their 80s or 90s and indeed not household names for the most part (compiled by The Associated Press).Of that number I clearly knew twenty. I had not met them; I simply knew them by their celebrity status or because they are renown. In other words they were “Someone who is known for being known.” Most were Americans, but a few like Fidel Castro and King Bhumibol Adulyadej were not, but they had such an impact on this world that readers should be aware of their newsworthy significance.

Now, to make it in The New York Times as a news story obituary, one must be a V.I.P. and no one pays for the obit. The judgement of NYT makes a de facto statement that the person’s life had a wider impact than others.

Everyday our metro newspaper publishes new listings on the “Remembering” page under “Obituaries, Death Notices and In Memoriam.” They list our metro area deaths, then our state, then elsewhere. Now the deceased get a biographical account, but it’s not free. The charge is $7.00 per line per day published. A line is 3-5 words depending on the length of the word, but not to exceed 4 cm across including spaces between words, which would denote a font size between9 and 10. Some columns run 40-50 cm in length ($700-$1000 for one day). Bold lettering at an additional 60 cents per word can be arranged through the Classified Advertising Department.

In that we see one to two dozen listings daily, it amounts to considerable revenue for the paper. However, the paper is not entirely capitalistic; it offers Unpaid Obituary Listings that are limited to name, age, location, profession and spouse of the deceased.

These obits (esp. British 15th century) or obituaries (1738) gives us notice of a person’s recent death usually with a short biographical account and information about the upcoming funeral. By the way, almost always a wonderful smiling photo within a 4 cm width x 4.5 cm height box accompanies the column. These paid for obits are a bit of a cross between an epitaph and eulogy.

These common people obits, death notices, and memorials tell us of someone loved, admired, respected, and who touched many lives. Everyday people, to me, are just as important as royalty and nobility, achieved or ascribed status, embodied or master status, etc. Oh, the everyday people may not make national news, but they are every bit as important, prominent, and significant to family and friends, and in most cases, even more so. Yes, the newspapers always brings us “big lives writ small”. However, we would welcome evermore “small lives writ big” as the obit is the last word or final chapter of their lives. How their stories began and how they ended “tell us about people we’ve never heard of and leave us sorry that we never got the chance to meet them”. It is history that has a shaping influence!

The writer has taught conversational English for 15 years. He currently works for Virginia State University. Write to

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