In early spring I committed to working on writing the life stories of an 89-year-old Indianapolis man. His relatives who were hiring me to do the work considered various ways to make it happen — including my making the 6-hour round trip to his home several times this summer to talk with him, his daughter-in-law asking him questions and videotaping his answers for me to work with, and his daughter-in-law and her mother writing down what they knew about him as a place for me to start.
Our work was to be a Christmas present for the man’s six sons, who have volume upon volume of family genealogy but who have heard very few details about their father’s life.
Not long ago the man’s health took a turn for the worse and the man died. His stories — about fatherhood, about his relationship with his beloved wife who preceded him in death, about owning and running a business, about doing mission work overseas, including smuggling Bibles to places where they were not welcome — went with him.
This was the second time this year that someone I was going to work with to document his/her life stories died before the stories got written. My heart breaks double, first for the loss of the individual in the lives of their loved ones and again for the loss of the stories that were oh-so-close to being saved.