Monday, July 14, 2008

Life and death of a 12-year-old

I tend to shy away from writing obituaries for children. Summing up a short life generally amounts to a couple of biographical facts (birthplace, school, scouts, favorite toy) and a lot of sentimentality.

When I received a call from a reader suggesting we do a human interest story on Demetrius Smith, who was on the planet for only 12 years, I balked. But to give the caller, who was not related to the child, a fair shake, I asked him to send me a copy of the obituary from the funeral program.

I was intrigued. Demetrius lived most of his life with death, having his first bout with cancer as a toddler, and yet I could see that he packed a whole lot of living into those 12 years.

I like to claim that I strive for diversity in my weekly obit feature, A Life Story. My subjects come from all walks of life, ethnic backgrounds, occupations, lifestyles, religious and political persuasions, and, yes, ages.

And yet I had never written A Life Story for anyone under 30.

Demetrius' story was published in The Plain Dealer today, July 14, 2008. The story with photos and a video of Demetrius playing the piano appears on the paper's newsblog.

I was inspired by what I learned about this kid. Judging from the comments that have been made online in these first few hours, it's safe to say the Demetrius' short life has inspired lots of people.

And to think, I almost rejected the idea of writing his story.

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