Beauty Found in Tragedy
When I was a reporter at the Monterey Herald, part of my job was to type up obituaries for the newspaper. One slow Saturday, I came across two obituaries with the same last name. It turned out that an older couple had died within twenty-four hours of one another, leaving ten adult children behind.
I started digging around and found that the wife had a stroke and died in her bed. The husband, upon seeing her body carried out of the bedroom, suffered a heart attack and died a day later in the hospital.
I did a little more research and found that occasionally people do die after they lose a loved one. A few doctors I spoke with said they believe it is possible for someone to die of a broken heart. I called the contact number on the obituary and reached the couple’s daughter-in-law. I told her I wanted to do a story about her in-laws. She told me to meet her at the wake the next day.
I stood pressed against a wall in the living room as mourners filed past me. Most ignored me, but occasionally someone would shoot a questioning glance my way. One woman with dark hair glared at me as she walked past.
My hostess, the daughter-in-law of the deceased, had planted me there, saying she’d be back in a minute. It has been twenty minutes, at least. Finally, the daughter-in-law returned.
“Sorry about that,” she said. “Let’s go into a bedroom and I’ll gather some people to talk to you.”
In the bedroom, about fifteen people gathered around me – the couple’s children and spouses. The dark-haired woman who had glared at me earlier was with them. It turns out she was the youngest daughter of the couple. I waited for them to settle in and then introduced myself.
“I’m here to write a story about your parents. I want to let people know about them and their great love story. I talked to some doctor’s and they said that they truly believe some people die of a broken heart. It sounds like that’s what happened to your father. I’m so sorry to bother you right now, but I want to let people know about them and their great love.”
Finally, someone began to talk. Then, after a moment, others chimed in, laughing and crying as they shared heartwarming stories and memories about their parents.
The dark-haired daughter continued to glare at me the entire time. One of her siblings tried to prod her into talking but she said, “I’m not telling HER anything.”
I could have crawled into a hole, but I kept at it until I had what I thought I needed.
I went back and wrote a story about these amazing parents who came over from Mexico and spent thirty years picking lettuce in the fields, backbreaking work so they could send four of their children to medical school to become doctors. They created a loving family and environment and were the heart and soul of this giant family that was so devastated by their loss. I left the house feeling as if this family were truly blessed for having had such amazing parents.
About a week later, I was at my desk opening my mail when I opened a thank you card. This is what it said to the best of my memory:
“Thank you so much for writing that story about my parents. As you noticed, I initially didn’t want to talk to you and didn’t want you in our house, but I’m so glad you were there. Your article is something our family will treasure forever.”
It was from the dark-haired daughter.
And, that is just one example of why I loved the crime beat. Because despite the horrors of reporting on the seedy and tragic parts of life, there were also moments of beauty and love that I never would have encountered otherwise.