Writing Someone Else’s Story

As I said in the last post, my father-in-law died the other week and among the many responsibilities inside the family after his death was the task of preparing his obituary for the memorial service.  My wife worked on it while we were at grandma’s house or while we were on the way back from Albion, and then she gave it to me to type up. 

As I typed, read, and revised it in order to send it to Dawn and her sister for review, I thought about what it takes to write someone else’s story.  I thought about the details that we knew and the ones we didn’t.  I wondered how much filled the spaces between each line of Mr. McKinney’s life, spaces we couldn’t recall, spaces we’d never appreciate.

There’s always more to a person’s life than we know, isn’t it?  The unspoken words that bring meaning to our narratives.  The events that stay with us even when no framed picture captures them.  The dates we don’t forget.  The people we love but hardly see.

Writing someone else’s story helps me imagine.  What was he thinking?  How did it feel to watch that happen, to experience that beginning or that ending or that conflict or that pain?  It’s an exercise in imagining and an exercise in pulling what’s known with what’s not.  And even then, with imagination and facts and dates, that story will never really be written well, written fully.

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