One weird thing that journalists do is attend the funerals of complete strangers. Then, having listened to the eulogies and talked to loved ones, we do our best to write a story that encapsulates the person’s life, even though we never met or talked to that person when they were alive.
It’s a tall order, one that I think most journalists are terrified they’ll screw up royally.
We take these assignments very seriously — after all, the funeral story may very well be the last thing published about the person who died.
I’ve only had to write these types of stories a few times in my journalism career. This weekend was one of those times.
My editors sent me to a “celebration of life” service for Joe Byrd, a local bass player who had some renown in the world of jazz music. I drew the assignment because I was the on-duty weekend reporter.
Thankfully, one of my colleagues wrote a pretty in-depth piece about Mr. Byrd a few days after he died earlier this month. So I was familiar with his back story and wasn’t starting from scratch.
I think I did a pretty good job with the story. As I listened to the speeches, a clear theme emerged about the supporting but vital role of Mr. Byrd as a bass player in a band as well as in life. The theme was started by the first eulogist, radio personality Andy Bienstock, and continued by others.
But still, I worried that I didn’t quote all of the speakers, that I didn’t say enough about the extensive musical tributes to Mr. Byrd. (There was about an hour of speeches and an hour-and-a-half of music.)
Maybe if I was a fan of jazz music, I could have done better, I thought. (Sorry, jazz-lovers, there’s only a narrow range of jazz that I like. I’m much more of a blues gal, thanks to my guitar-playing husband.)
The assignment was also a little odd because — strangely enough — I wrote the very first report we had about the car crash that led to Mr. Byrd’s death.
Mr. Byrd’s car was struck by another vehicle on busy Route 2 in Edgewater shortly before rush hour on a weekday. It caused major traffic problems. Our police/fire/emergency reporter wasn’t in the newsroom, so I volunteered to get the basic details so we could post a news item on our website. Only later did we learn that Mr. Byrd was involved and died.
So it was just by sheer chance that I wrote about the wreck and only due to scheduling issues that I wound up covering Mr. Byrd’s service. Through luck, it all came full circle.
That’s kind of why this line of work is amazing — you never know quite what’s going to happen, who you meet, what stories you’ll tell.