Emory Williamson
University of Louisville
Oldham Era

As I watched a middle-aged woman weep and twirl a small gold cross in her worn, wrinkled hands, I knew I was where I needed to be.

Although I've written stories concerning government miscues, social issues of immense debate and an abundance of general news stories, spending a few hours each week with those in despair and reflection is something I'll never forget.

It's an assignment I questioned at first. My editor at The Oldham Era informed me that on top of my general reporting duties, I would write a weekly feature obituary - essentially a profile highlighting the life of someone who recently died.

I wrote nine feature obituaries - men and women, poor and rich, educated and uneducated, black and white. The average age rounded to 82, with the youngest being a retired prison guard and the oldest being a disabled handyman.

They were all different, but the impact each one left on a family or just one person is something I'll never forget. Stories of struggle, perseverance, tragedy and love not only showed me how much people care for each other but it put into perspective how much I care for the ones I love.

A good journalist may endure hours of reporting on government happenings and investigating various misdoings, but a good journalist also knows how to listen. They understand how to slow down in the 24-hour news world and listen to those who have no voice and tell their stories.

And as I spent a June morning in the hospital with my grandmother - an Alzheimer's victim who came down with pneumonia - I received a call from someone I recently interviewed for a feature obituary.

Just a few days earlier he wept as he talked about his father's passing but now he thanked me for the story I had written. His kind words came in a time when I needed something to uplift my spirits. His excitement rubbed off on me and I couldn't help but smile in a time of uncertainty with a member of my own family.

I hung up the phone and realized that even if I lost my grandmother, I knew that I would have a story to tell. To me, all that matters are the memories and the stories - it's all we have when the ones we love are gone.

I'm proud to say I had the opportunity to bring to life stories of the dead.