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Eric Barnes

Eric Barnes is President & Executive Editor of The Daily Memphian.

And now we publish obituaries

By Updated: January 07, 2019 11:58 AM CT

Again and again, prior to the launch of The Daily Memphian, people would say to me, “You’ve got to have obituaries.”

Then they would laugh. Or make a joke. Or in some way convey embarrassment. “I guess that makes me old,” people would say. “Or maybe I’m just weird.”

At the time, I didn’t think The Daily Memphian should include obituaries. It seemed like an idea stuck in the distant past of printed newspaper history.

And, honestly, it did seem strange. Even voyeuristic. Who wants to read about the deaths of people you don’t know?

But the requests for us to include obits kept coming. Virtually every day. Sometimes twice a day. Sometimes three and four times a day.

In one-on-one meetings, in open forums with church and civic groups, via emails sent late at night, people kept saying, “You’ve got to have obituaries.”

I should note that these requests were not just from old people. They were not from people who seemed in any way weird. And, especially after The Daily Memphian launched in September, these requests came from people who no longer laughed about wanting us to carry obituaries. These people were serious.

Obituaries were, for them, a necessary feature for The Daily Memphian to fulfill its mission.

And so I realized I was wrong. We did need obituaries. We launched them recently. (You can view them here.)

Still, even as we worked to get our obituaries online, I still didn’t fully understand why people felt so strongly that obituaries were necessary.

Then, just days after they went up on the site, I was looking at our obituaries page. I wasn’t going there to read the obituaries. I was simply checking on whether some changes we’d made to the page were working.

But there was a face on the page, at the top of the obituaries, that caused me to stop. It was not someone I knew. But it was someone who was, clearly, about my age. She even looked like someone I might know.

I was so struck by this that I read her name aloud. I wasn’t reading the name to anyone. Just to myself. But I’d forgotten that a friend was in my office. The friend immediately and quietly repeated the name.

“Is her obituary up?” my friend asked. “I need to send it to my classmates.”

And in just a few moments, I’d emailed my friend a link to the obituary, which she then sent to her friends from back in high school. Friends who still live in Memphis and others who’ve moved to cities far away.

“She died of cancer,” my friend said as she typed, also speaking more to herself than to me. “It’s just so sad.”

Obituaries, I’ve come to realize, are about connection, and especially connection to the people in your community. They have what was, for me, an unexpected power to link people together across place and time. Parents whose kids have gone away to college read the obituaries in case one of their child’s former teachers has passed away. Children, now grown and caring for elderly parents, watch for the passing of their parents’ friends, former co-workers, maybe longtime neighbors. Memphians living in other places are, through the obituaries, able to stay in touch with at least one part of what is happening in this city where they grew up.

There’s nothing voyeuristic about that. Nothing strange at all. And so we have obituaries.



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The Daily Memphian obituaries

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