That call, at the worst of times

It seems with all the news coverage and this shiny new blog, I’d be remiss not to offer a few further thoughts on the story of Richard and Nancy Trimmer.

If you missed it, the local couple — who lived for a time in East Berlin and then in Spring Grove — raised six kids and shared 61 years of marriage together here, before passing away last Sunday. In separate hospitals.

Within 12 hours of one another.

“It was all just getting too hard,” daughter-in-law Sue Trimmer said of the couple’s struggle with various illnesses, “so God took care of it.”

Mrs. Trimmer went on to talk at length on Tuesday morning about her mother-in law, who worked for years at R.H. Sheppard in Hanover,  and her father-in-law, a long-haul trucker.

Right after I made what, for a reporter, is the toughest of phone calls.

Specifically, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve had to say:

“Hi, My name is Tim Stonesifer and I’m a reporter with The Evening Sun, and I’m sorry to bother you at such a difficult time, but…”

I would — well — I would probably find a bereavement support group and donate all that change to help those counselors, who have an awfully tough job, every day.

Of course, even for such professionals, it’s still a job. Just like it is for the reporters charged with calling families for comment at the toughest of times. At least that’s how it looks on its face.

Longtime local residents Richard and Nancy Trimmer, married for 61 years, each died on Sunday, less than 12 hours apart.

But that’s not to say we don’t take it very personally, getting it right.

And what I’ve always found interesting about those phone calls — and this week’s conversation with the Trimmer family was no exception — is how they’re almost never as difficult as I expect them to be, after I get someone on the phone.

I suspect that’s because even for someone who’s just lost a loved one, the pain of that loss is not apt to interfere with their desire to remember the person who has died to the community at large.

Maybe it even helps, a little. I like to think so, anyway.

And I always approach those stories in the same way, whether it’s a fatal accident, or the loss of a child, or even a long-in-love couple passing away under what can only be called extraordinary circumstances this week.

With absolute deference.

That’s because, to paraphrase the memoir of a reporter whose stories I’ve long enjoyed reading, “The story is always — always — bigger than the reporter.”

In fact the person quietly jotting it all down in that little spiral notebook is not much more than a conduit, whose job it is to share experiences. It’s certainly not about him (or her).

The job is simply get it right, and try to tell it well.

That’s about the best you can hope for on any story, but particularly when trying to remember someone recently deceased, since the time to get information is necessarily limited by family’s other more important obligations, and by their understandably distracted state of mind.

Certainly that was all in my thought process this week, when I first learned of Richard and Nancy Trimmer and made the initial contact with Sue Trimmer. Tell me a little bit about what they were like, I said.

And what a pleasure then to hear it all — the bowling nights and the bike rides, the decades-long love affair and the dozen beloved great-grandchildren brought into this world.  What a privilege, to type it up and to present to thousands a grieving woman’s tale. A family story, a family was kind enough to give.

And that’s where the credit always lies in such articles, with the people who take the time, who make the effort to share their experiences. We’re all better for it.

Being perhaps the typical writer-type, after such a story is finished I tend only to read it through and think of all that’s wrong with it, how a little more time — a different word here, or a comma there — could have made it better. The story’s never quite good enough for me. Ever.

The one that I file and put in the paper, that is.

The real story, though — as told by those who lived and breathed it — is unerringly lovely.

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One Response to That call, at the worst of times

  1. I work with Deb at Delia’s. Her and I’ve talked about her dad and mom being sick alot because she and I do the same job. It was a shock when I went in on Monday morning and I was told the news. Nobody could believe that they both passed away. I just wanted the family to know how sorry I am. They all will be in my thoughts. God Bless you Deb and the whole family.

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