I love reading obits. The whole story is there from start to finish. You don't have to slog through a memoir or biography to get the real scoop on who someone was when they walked this earth. A well-written obituary is like salt on grapefruit: it brings out the flavor bite by juicy bite.
As reported by Paul Vitello writing for the NYTimes, Pilar Montero, Bar Owner and Link to Brooklyn's Seafaring Past, Dies at 90, Montero's life may have been lived in a bar on a waterfront but she had a crow's nest view of the world of searfaring.
Just look at her sitting there on her corner stool. If those walls could talk they might say the same thing the NYTimes wrote of Montero in 2006: "She is a human time machine."
The facts of a life must not and cannot be the whole story. Human life is always more than what meets the eye. Pay careful attention to the facts in the context of what mattered to the person. Like an argument for wrongful death damages, an obit can be a time capsule of drama, intrigue, history, truth and lies, and all the muddy human nostalgia of who said what to whom and when and what happened next. All of it matters.
When you are charged with telling the story of one who has passed on - whether by the fault of another or natural causes - it is easy to slide over the dark sides of that person and focus only on the happy facts. Yet, how that person handled ridicule, diversity, challenge, despair, hard times, the luck of the draw, pulling the short straw and the like is what made their story an epic. Each human story is an epic - a hero's journey. It takes a hero just to get out of bed in the morning to face what the world will howl at you.
Begin by paying attention to those things for which they had affection. Then move to what they were drawn to and what mattered. These steps will guide you to the beating heart of your story. We listeners will attend to the story of a life that sounds vaguely familiar to our own.