- L to r.: Tennant Glenn Davitian, Ed Hanley, Angie Routly, Dr. Frank Fiermonte
The United States passed a morbid milestone on Monday: half a million lives lost to the coronavirus. Many of those souls died surrounded by strangers — health care workers who were trying their best to provide some comfort and connection. Loved ones left behind have also had to forego the ritual of saying goodbye in more formal ways. For the past year, there have been almost no graveside gatherings. Nearly every funeral and memorial service has been postponed until COVID-19 restrictions lift.
When it comes to grieving the dead, only obituaries have turned out to be pandemic-proof; these notices attempt to capture and commemorate the enormity of a life. In the past decade, Seven Days has been publishing more obituaries, for reasons unrelated to the coronavirus. Although funeral homes and crematoriums still help write and place obituaries in newspapers like ours, more and more families are making their own arrangements. Seven Days has now been around for more than a quarter century. Vermonters who are leaving this patch of Earth, and those staying, are more likely to be our readers than they were 25 years ago.
Everyone has a story. Recounting someone else's is an awesome duty, whether they're living or not. Done right, it's a gift. Good obituaries are full of specificity — revealing anecdotes, favorite jokes, defining adventures — that call up a person's spirit, at least on the page. Sadly, I've had quite a bit of experience writing them. And in the past 12 months, I've helped a number of friends through the process.
Seven Days has always sought out and celebrated the people who make our community unique. The paper is no less interested in memorializing them.
Mark Saltveit, a newcomer to Vermont who has become one of our freelance writers, mentioned the quality of our death notices in an essay he wrote for the paper last year. "I have a new life goal," he announced: "to spend the rest of my days earning, in the end, one of those wonderful obituaries that makes friends bite their lip and brings a fond smile or head shake to acquaintances. To be remembered as a 'character,' a good guy without any operatic moral flaws, who took care of his responsibilities."
A recent letter to the editor expressed the same sentiment. "I, too, read them word for word and marvel," Nancy Haiduck wrote of our obituaries.
We're grateful that so many families trust us with their stories. In this issue you can read about Charlie Auer of Burlington boathouse fame and globe-trotting Leobardo Perez-Rivas and racquetball-playing retired Lt. Col. Harvey L. Ottinger. Each personal history is a reminder of the human toll behind the statistics. Numbers are important, but we need words to make sense of them.