She came to work on Monday. The last time I saw her, I made a stupid joke about wearing an eye patch.
And that was it.
On Tuesday, she didn't come to the office. It was unlike her to be late without calling. So, right away, we knew something was wrong.
Two hours later, the entire staff of the Payson Roundup was gathered in the production department. Publisher Richard Haddad announced that one of our own, Marge Hanscom, passed away during the night.
On Wednesday morning, with tears in both our eyes, I sat with her son and wrote her obituary.
He told me about her life -- the jobs she held, the things she loved -- and I recorded all of it. He interjected the details with his feelings -- she was kind, fair, always upbeat.
At that point, when a stranger is in my office and I am helping them write the obituary for a loved one, I usually say, "We can't put those things in."
But this was my loved one.
These were my tears.
Why should I have to leave something out of an obituary, just because those are the rules.
The Roundup follows Associated Press style for obituaries. To summarize, the rules are: Short and sweet, and just the facts.
As I wrestled mentally with the rules I had imposed on hundreds of people during their time of mourning, I realized how it feels to be on the other side of the Kleenex box.
And then, I remembered the advice I always give those people. We offer a memorial ad for $3 an inch to anyone who wants to express feelings beyond boundaries set for the traditional obituary.
And that's what I did with Marge's obituary. I wrote the facts of her life, and we -- the staff of the Roundup and her son -- poured our hearts out in a memorial ad.
We are one of a dwindling number of newspapers left in the nation that offers obituaries free of charge, but in order to do this, we have to stick to the rules and keep them short and consistent. This also allows us to archive for posterity all obituaries on our Web site, payson.com.
Anyone who has run an obituary in another newspaper knows many charge per word. To simply share the fact that your loved one has died and will have a memorial service might run as much as $500 in a major metropolitan newspaper.
I am proud that the Roundup does not charge for our obituaries.
Obituaries are a comfort to the family, but they are also a part of history. They record, in brief, the people who pass through this area -- from founding fathers to the guy who stocked shelves at the corner store.
When someone calls me and asks what the charge will be, I always say, "They are free. We offer obituaries as a community service." And it makes me feel good to say that.