Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Your Words Are My Words

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, March 21, 2012 by Sara Mattinson

Among my responsibilities at this newspaper are the Classifieds. Every week, I compile the In Memoriam announcements and the Cards of Thanks, but it wasn’t until my father’s 70th birthday was days away that I truly appreciated this part of my work. 
Growing up in urban Ontario, I wasn’t aware of the lives and deaths of the people in the community; we didn’t live in a rural area where close connections to neighbours are long-standing, daily, and necessary. My world was the church we attended and the street on which we lived, which happened to be in the same neighbourhood, rather than half a county. The practice of publishing, and reading, memorial and thank you announcements in the newspaper was foreign to me until I began  working at this newspaper ten months ago.
In the world I grew up in, it was the obituaries that mattered: My father was a funeral director and we lived above the business. When the phone rang and someone said, “Did you hear that so-and-so died?” it meant we’d have to be quiet upstairs during the evening of visitation. Likely my father would know the family. 
These days, when the phone rings and someone says, “Did you hear that so-and-so died?” it means a Card of Thanks and perhaps, a year later, an In Memoriam announcement will cross my desk. I’m also likely to recognize the name or at least, make a family connection. 
Twenty years after   away from home, I’m now working in a job that shares common ground with my father’s profession. He treated funeral service with great dignity and respect, and demanded the same from his staff and family. He was known as a kind and thoughtful man who guided many people through a few difficult days. 
Each week, many of the announcements I receive are handwritten, connecting me closely with the person who took the time to sit down and think about and write the perfect words for the family member they want to remember. From now on, instead of transcribing my pile of insertion orders quickly, another task completed on a day full of deadlines, I’m going to treat each Card of Thanks and In Memoriam with the same dignity and respect to the printed word that my father gave to each human being. Those handwritten words become my words. 
My father died in the spring of 2009 and as his 70th birthday approached earlier this month, I considered submitting a memorial announcement to our hometown paper. Having never done something like that before, I kept putting it off because I couldn’t figure out what to say. It wasn’t until I was writing up an In Memoriam announcement for this paper that I found the perfect words for my own father. Suddenly, I very much wanted to go public with my need for him to be remembered. 
But I had missed the other paper’s deadline. 
The fierceness of my disappointment surprised me. 

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