I experienced more than grief when my mother Margaret Lee passed away on Oct. 22.
Among the many thoughts that have crossed my mind since her passing is how the experience underscored the important elements of what I did for many years as a journalist – the same elements I now try to instill in the students I teach at St, Bonaventure University.
Omit Needless Words
For starters, the experience forced me to write concisely. At funeral Masses in my mother’s diocese, the only opportunity for a family member to offer a eulogy comes at the start of the ceremony and is limited to one minute.
With just 60 seconds to describe my mother’s 88 years of life, my journalistic instincts kicked in. I made every word count. I eliminated weak and needless words and used powerful, descriptive language to paint a picture and tell a story.
Write with Passion
My journalistic instincts also took over when I received word that my mother had died. Our family members had been taking turns at the hospital. My wife Anne was there when my mother passed early in the morning. My father and I were at home resting.
When Anne called, my father was still asleep, and I saw no need to wake him. As I sat alone in the kitchen with nothing to do except to wait for my father to wake, I realized the most constructive thing I could do with my time was to compose my mother’s obituary.
Pay Attention to Accuracy and Detail
When the funeral director showed us his draft of my mother’s obituary (which later was combined with my words), my eyes immediately focused on a misspelling in one of my daughters’ names, invoking thoughts of how, in some journalism programs, a misspelled proper name can result in an automatic F grade.
After the funeral director corrected the error, I then instructed him in how to put the obituary into proper AP style and place commas and other punctuation marks in the correct spots in the text. After all, a carefully edited story sends a message of professionalism.
Keep Up with Technology
When I started my career, I wrote news stories on a manual typewriter. When my mother died, I composed her obituary on an iPhone.
The tools journalists use have changed radically over the years, but what we do – how and why we tell a story – remains the same.
Never Stop Being Curious
At our family gathering after the funeral, my daughters commended me on my one-minute eulogy – not just for what I said, but also for how I managed to maintain my composure while speaking.
When I told them my secret, they laughed. “I just Googled it,” I said. “I searched for ‘How to control your emotions while delivering a eulogy’ and the tips were all there.”
The story made for a lighter moment on a difficult day and also an ideal “-30-“ for this column.