The pandemic has made life harder for obituary writers

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL February 7, 2022

American obituary for WWI death. Public domain. Original uploader was Richard Arthur Norton (1958-) at en.wikipedia – Hudson Observer, Friday, November 22, 1918

The toll taken by the pandemic has made life rather difficult for obituary writers. Their work is required – immediately –there is a death, especially of someone famous or important in some way. With the lengthening roll call of celebrities who succumbed to the coronavirus, obit writers have been kept exceptionally busy these past two years. So much so that the ranks of obit writers have swelled.

I remember ‘Wired’ recounting, some months into the pandemic, how obituaries had become a sunshine sector for journalists by June 2020: “There’s so much work that obituaries have become a source of income for journalists from other fields.”

The ‘Wired’ piece started with a moving story that illustrated the importance of the obit editor’s work. It recorded ‘The Telegraph’s’ obit editor Andrew Brown’s profound shock when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson went into intensive care as a result of coronavirus. Mr Brown, like the prime minister, was in his fifties. Thoughts of mortality – his own or that of anyone in his age group – were not uppermost in Mr Brown’s mind. Even so, Mr Brown did his professional duty and updated the existing obit of Boris Johnson (most media outlets maintain a stock of obits on high-profile people). In the end, it didn’t need to be used but the incident does show the enormous pressures on obit writers and editors, especially during a mass-fatality event such as a pandemic.

For, when death is all around them, an obit writer has to convey a unique sense of life.

Tomorrow: Obituaries have a life of their own