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Obituaries are a comforting tradition, but we also want to tell stories from people's lives

Dr Thomas Hare, center, with his daughters, Rebecca and Kristen Hare. (Courtesy of Hare family).
Dr Thomas Hare, center, with his daughters, Rebecca and Kristen Hare. (Courtesy of Hare family).
Published Dec. 5, 2018

On the morning I sat down at my Dad's kitchen table to write his obituary, the smell of Marlboros and potpourri still hung in the air.

That was where he'd sit, hours before sunrise, wooden shutters closed, and get lost in his latest hardcover, the coffee steaming near one hand, smoke curling from a glass ashtray near the other.

That was where, as an adult, I learned to appreciate a good steak, where we'd drink Miller Lites and nibble on dry roasted peanuts, where he taught me to pay my bills as soon as I got them and reminded me to add more money to my 401k with each new job.

But on that late November morning, back at his table, it was just me.

"Dr. Thomas Ermon Hare, a longtime Springfield physician, passed away Friday night due to complications from a stroke," I wrote. "He is survived by…"

My dad was 67 when he died, and I wrote that obituary. But it wasn't my first. As a young journalist at the St. Joseph News-Press, I reported obituaries that we called "Life Remembered." I wrote more in the jobs that followed.

For my dad's obituary, I stuck to the form: name, occupation, cause of death, survivors, services.

As I experienced something I'd never really imagined before - mourning the loss of a parent - it felt comforting to slide into that tradition.

At his wake that night, I met the Village Inn waitresses he saw each Saturday morning for breakfast. I talked to the coworkers he ate lunch with every day. I learned from the doctors and janitors and guards that he treated each of them exactly the same. Even the prisoners at Springfield's Federal Medical Center sent their condolences. Many of the people I met shared a joke my Dad told them. A lot of them were off-color. That night, through their stories, I got to know my father so much better.

And it reminded me of something I'd missed in his obituary - that his life was more than who, what, when and where.

Obituaries are an important function of local news, but they haven't changed much over the years.

Seven years ago, the Tampa Bay Times launched a daily series called Epilogue, trying to capture more of what made someone stand out. Stephanie Hayes, now the features editor, wrote them, followed by Andrew Meacham, now the theater critic. As this newsroom, like so many others, got smaller, the job went from one person to many, and Epilogue stopped being a regular feature.

Now, we're bringing Epilogue back.

Once a week, you'll find a story about someone from Tampa Bay. Mostly, they won't be people who are well-known. And they won't be written as biographies, more like snapshots. You'll also find us on Instagram at @werememberthem and #inmemoryof, where we'll be sharing details of how the living remember the dead. If you think of someone I should write about, please let me know.

I hope these stories remind you of what I was reminded of years ago at my dad's wake - None of our lives are just the biographical details.

They're also the way we treat people, the things we build and the impressions we leave behind. Long after someone is gone, those are the stories we tell about each other.

Reach Kristen Hare at epilogue@tampabay.com

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