I have a love-hate relationship with obituaries.
To my college journalism professor, they were a teaching tool and one of the best ways to emphasize how important the 5Ws of the lede paragraph were to a newspaper story. His logic made sense, especially because the obituary desk was the first job for many newspaper reporters in my part of the world in the mid-1980s. I can’t tell you how many obits I wrote that semester—he assigned them based on the number of grammatical errors he found in each individual assignment—but I know I dreaded attending each session of that class as much as I enjoyed the challenges it presented.
Obituaries may have been successful as a teaching tool, but at that point in my life, I thought them a nuisance and little more than a service newspapers provided to the family of the deceased and to the community—a who-what-when-where-why captured in 400 words or less.
Ten years after completing that newswriting and reporting class, I proofread the obituary my mom wrote about my dad and started paying closer attention to the weight each of those 400 words carried. I began to see that my view of the professor’s assignment had overlooked the responsibility the obit writer has to the family and the burden the writer assumes in shaping the reader’s knowledge of the deceased.
It’s no easy task to assume that responsibility, but I was surprised to find that the burden was offset with joy when I wrote my mom’s obituary this past January. I realized that I was writing for an audience that has yet to be born more than I was writing for our immediate circle of family and friends. The details I included are only a starting point for the stories my brother and I will share with future generations. We’ll pass along those stories so that others might come to know her, not by the dates etched on her gravestone, but by the life she led and the person she was.
Isn’t that why we record family stories? And why we write about motherhood and family? It’s definitely one reason we continue to publish Literary Mama. We’re pleased to share this special-themed Mother’s Day issue and hope the words on these pages will inspire you to share your own stories with your family.
Welcome to our May issue!
P.S. Stay connected between monthly issues by subscribing to our blog or by following us on social media. See you there!
Heartsong: The Sink by Kate Ristau
After Melina by Leslie Lawrence
that furious force by Devon Balwit
Braiding by Jennifer Judge
Mother-Daughter Conversation by Maril Crabtree
Screaming Her Head Off by Lois Marie Harrod
Summer Day by Daye Phillippo
Twin Birth by Dana Salvador
A Review of Moments of Seeing by Karna Converse
Photos by Gioia Albano, Joseph Carro, Gianna Marino, Claudia Tremblay, and Stevie Trujillo