Monday, September 25, 2006

"Died Doing What He Loved"

Why do (some) obit writers do that?? It's so aggravating.
I agree with Kathy Kemp of the Birmingham (Ala.) News ... (no link available, posted on alt.obits)
and Trevor Brown, former journalism dean, Indiana University (posted 9/25 on Romenesko's Web site)

Living Doing What You Love Is The Best
FROM: The Birmingham (Alabama) News ~ By Kathy Kemp
I don't know if you've noticed this, but often, when a person dies unexpectedly - especially while mountain climbing, skydiving or flying solo over the Bermuda triangle - we're told he "died doing what he loved."
Latest example: Steve Irwin, Australia's intrepid and beloved crocodile hunter, killed Monday when a stingray pierced his heart while Irwin filmed a TV segment in the Great Barrier Reef. Immediately, news organizations reported Irwin had "died doing what he loved."
They were quoting Irwin's manager, John Stainton, who added that Irwin "left this world in a happy and peaceful state of mind."
Stainton meant well, of course. But let's take a moment to think about this. Irwin spoke often of his love of family, of conservation and of reptiles and sea creatures. He never mentioned a desire to yank a stingray's barb from his chest and then gasp a final breath.
Go to Google and type in "died doing what he loved" and you'll get 1,290,000 responses (type in "doing what she loved" and you'll net 423 more). Those words are spoken about soldiers killed in Iraq and grandfathers who dropped dead of heart attacks while playing baseball with the kids.
The news media sometimes promote the cliché. A reporter for The Register Guard in Eugene, Ore., didn't rely on friends or family to speak the dreaded words: "Jane Vanneman Higdon died doing what she loved," declares the first sentence on a story in June detailing how Higdon had fallen off her bike and been hit by a truck.
Friends told the reporter that Higdon, 47, loved her husband, endurance sports and her job as a nurse. None mentioned that she looked forward to being crushed by a loaded logging truck.
When extreme skier Douglas Coombs was killed in May in a skiing accident, NPR commentator Alex Markels started a tribute to Coombs by saying, "There's probably no obituary more admiring of a man than to say that he died doing what he loved."
I don't know of any research confirming that dying happy equals dying well, but lots of people clearly want to believe it. In Tennessee just last week, 25-year-old Kristin Reese, a member of a women's football team, died in a motorcycle accident. Her coach, Steve Lewis, couldn't help himself. "She died doing what she loved. I hope I can die doing what I love, and I hope everybody else can too," he said.
Fewer of us seem content anymore just to say a prayer and mourn the dead. We live in exciting times that require exciting endings. Perhaps human nature dictates our search for meaning in tragedy, whether it involves a famous adventurer, an astronaut or a friend's ill mother. We don't want to think that the dead might have suffered or perhaps wished, in those final moments, to celebrate another birthday, to drive the kids to school tomorrow or to hunt for exotic creatures in another ocean on another day.
The truth is, if we're lucky, we live doing what we love. If we're blessed, our lives have meaning that transcends how we die.
And if you ask me, that's enough.

----and -------

From: Trevor Brown, Former journalism dean, Indiana University
After yanking a limb driven into the lawn like a javelin and then heaving it into the neighbor's yard, I wondered again at Steve Irwin's death. "He left this world in a peaceful and happy state of mind," a fellow snorkeler said, "doing what he loved best." I doubt that, in the moments after the stingray's barb pierced his heart, Irwin was in a peaceful and happy state of mind. But I'm sick of the unctuous bromide that so-and-so died doing what he loved best.It could happen that a plunging limb from the trees at the bottom of our garden will take me out while I'm mowing. Yes, I enjoy mucking about on my John Deere LT133. But, please, please, I've told my wife and children, no line in my obituary, "He died doing what he loved best." I've implored them to edit an obituary like this:
Trevor Brown, 69, died Monday in his home. His wife, Charlene, found him slumped over on a couch in the living room, a victim, apparently, of a heart attack while doing the New York Times crossword. Preliminary speculation is that he was entering an answer to 9-across -- "One making a point at church?" -- when he succumbed. He had written only "E-L" to the five-letter answer and still clutched his favorite pencil, a 0.7 Pentel with a large eraser. Will Shortz, editor of the New York Times crossword, said, "I met Trevor Brown only once during a visit some years ago to Indiana University and did not learn that he was a crossword fan until after his death. Then I was surprised to discover that a faculty member at my alma mater was rarely able to get beyond Monday's crossword, the least challenging of the week's puzzles, until I was told he was a dean. It must be of great comfort to the family that Dean Brown died doing what he loved best. By the way, the answer to 9-across in this Monday's puzzle was SPIRE."Coaches like you should urge obit writers to resist the quote of comfort from well-meaning family and friends. I say, go for "The horror! The horror!"


Alana Baranick said...

I love to drive my car. But I don't want to die while I'm driving.

I love my job - writing about the dead. But I don't want to die in the newsroom.

I hope to die in my sleep at an advanced age. For me, that would be to die doing what I love.

steve miller said...

I really thought this meant sex when I first read the headline.

As for Steve Irwin, he died writhing in pain with a stingray barb in his chest. I doubt if this is what he loved doing.

What I love doing is gradually aging and looking younger than my age.