‘It’s an honour’ - Why I’ll never tire writing about dead people

Reporter Donna-Louise Bishop launching the Not Alone (pen pal initiative) string of the Here to Help

Donna-Louise Bishop is this paper's community life correspondent. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

This month, I celebrated my one-year anniversary as this paper’s community life correspondent.

And while that title may evoke connotations of Norfolk’s outstanding and interesting individuals and events within our towns and villages, a major part of my job involves writing obituaries.

I told my family initially that I was applying for this role, having previously been a senior reporter. The first thing one relative said was: “Well, that’s a bit morbid”. I would soon find out that they wouldn’t be the only one who thought that.

Many of the people I have met over the past 12 months were usually stumped for words when I answered their question about what I do for a living. They either looked away, changed the conversation, or waited for me to say I was joking.

I’m not the Grim Reaper, but sometimes it’s as if my presence alone is a bad omen.

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It is a fact that death makes many of us uncomfortable – and I am not exempt from that – but I don’t view my role as focusing on the ultimate end. In fact, it has become something of an honour, a privilege even, to pay a lasting tribute to someone’s loved one.

It has become almost a stereotype of obituary writers that we lurk in the valley of the shadow of death, constantly balancing the fragile nature of life. In reality, I have shared more laughs than tears with people as they unravel the remarkable and heart-warming stories of the person they knew.

Keeping in touch as Donna-Louise Bishop launches the Not Alone (pen pal initiative) string of the He

Community life correspondent, Donna-Louise Bishop, says writing obituaries is "an honour". Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

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I have written about the lives of many wonderful people since August 2020. Dance instructors, driving instructors, teachers, local business dynasty, authors, artists, world war veterans, members of Norfolk’s farming community, parents, children, friends, and various family members, as well as many, many more.

I have shared tales of the occasional rummun who spoke “a load of ole squit”, heard about grandparents who jumped naked into a sauna with socialites, and admired veterans who went above and beyond to help others.

There has also been the opportunity to give people a chance to pay a special tribute to loved ones who have died with Covid.

I feel less like a journalist and more like a historian, sharing a legacy with the world. Instead of dwelling on death, I am able to celebrate life.

I don’t take this responsibility lightly though. As a former 999 call handler for the ambulance service, I know all too well how delicate the balance between life and death can be. But one thing is for sure, I never tire of writing about other people’s lives lived.

So, as I celebrate my own milestone, I want to thank all of the bereaved who have reached out to me and trusted me to share their deceased’s stories, as well as the people who have allowed me to approach them and ask for the privilege to do so.

  • Community life correspondent, Donna-Louise Bishop, focuses on commemorative landmarks and obituaries of Norfolk, Waveney, and north Suffolk people, as well as helping families pay tribute to their loved ones. You can contact her via email at donna-louise.bishop@archant.co.uk, text or Whatsapp to 07918 709251, or follow her on Facebook at Donna-Louise Bishop: Journalist and Author.
  • To view all of our obituaries and tributes, you can now join the Facebook group Norfolk's Loved & Lost.

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