Reporting Death

Death is not an easy thing, and it never should be. This week’s story about an Ashland teen who committed suicide is not easy for anyone involved. And while reporting a story of this nature is incredibly difficult, it’s not nearly as difficult as it is for the family of the deceased.

I know this from first hand experience. I too lost someone close to me at a young age. And I still keep the obituary saved as a bookmark.

Notice that none of my brother’s family is quoted. It’s true that Nathan See and Preston Turley were very close to Willie. But the immediate family side is not there. No, my brother did not die at his own hand, but if I were the reporter doing this story I probably would have wanted to get a comment from the family. I’m sure that the reporter tried, but I was 19 at the time, I don’t think I had really lost my “innocence” until then, and I certainly was in no mood to speak to a student reporter at the Missourian. I could barely even speak to my friends and family.

My parents were similarly indisposed. My parents didn’t answer many phone calls in the first couple days, only direct family and Pastor Ramsey at First Presbyterian got through. Losing someone at such a young age is not expected. It has an even more tragic effect since the deceased did not have time to complete their life. Willie was excited to become an educator and he was so close to graduating. He wanted to become a loving husband and father and grow more in his faith. He had so much potential ahead of him.

When those years are suddenly snatched away the question of “Why?” is always on the mind. I’m sure Jacob Meadows’ family is asking that question even more since he took his own life. They’ll never know for sure why he did it, and that will upset them for the rest of their lives.

I still grieve for my brother. More than two years later, I still think about him and burst into uncontrollable sobs. So when reporting about death, especially if the deceased is a youth, remember that the family is not thinking about how their loved one will look in print. But they will remember if you dishonor them in any way. My parents cut out newspaper clippings and I watched news videos online and saved that obit. It may seem a bit morbid, but it’s a way of remembering them, of remembering their death and not taking life for granted.

Don’t take it personal if the family tells you to go away or stop calling. They’re in no mood to be polite and personally I felt like I had nothing left to lose for the first couple days. It felt as if the world had ended and reason had abandoned us. It’s still important to do a good job. So finding those other sources, such as Preston and Nathan, is the next step. And if that doesn’t go through, simple is always best.

My brother, Willie, and I outside our house in Litchfield, Minnesota in 1995. It's okay to say he looks like Harry Potter.

My brother, Willie, and I outside our house in Litchfield, Minnesota in 1995. It’s okay to say he looks like Harry Potter. He does.

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