Any artist in town knows Tara Bradbury as The Telegram’s long-standing supporter of the arts, and owes her a pint for her heartfelt efforts to give us all an audience. But earlier this year, she veered away from arts coverage to write a multi-part feature called “Living with Death.” It profiled people who live around the murky subject matter in their daily lives, or have somehow had a brush with the cold black end of existence.
This week, and deservingly so, Tara and her team were awarded a silver medal for Living with Death at the 2014 Atlantic Journalism Awards, in the category of “Best Multimedia Feature.”
For Anyone Who Missed It, Refresh Us on the Feature Series.
The series ran in The Telegram in four parts last October. I wanted to profile people who, by choice or by chance, surround themselves with death. I was really interested to find out how they make peace with it, what they think happens when we die, and how they keep from internalizing all the grief they witness. That being said, I decided from the beginning that I was not going to focus on the morbid side of it, but more the hopeful, celebratory angle.
What Drew you to This Subject Matter?
Last year, I was following a blog by a Scottish lady named Louise Page who had been diagnosed with terminal bone cancer. She had been encouraged to start the blog by her husband, and she was documenting her experience with a terminal illness and all the feelings that included (she passed away last May). Reading the way she approached her impending death – often with humour – made me think about my own mortality and fear of it, and I started wondering how exposure to death and dying affects people. Do they become desensitized? More fearful? More serene? Stronger or weaker in their faith?
How Did the Whole Thing Come Together?
Some of the interview subjects were quite obvious – I knew right away, for example, that I wanted to interview funeral directors and a palliative care nurse, as well as a member of the clergy. When it came to Dan Norman, the man who died and came back to life, I found him through a mutual friend who responded to a tweet I had posted, looking for people who had had near-death experiences. Rhonda Hayward’s photos were so perfect, and she was really meticulous about them: she sat through every interview I did, even if it took hours, because instead of simply capturing a moment, she wanted to make sure she told a story through her pictures. Our editor Ken Simmons did an awesome job on the print and web layout – not that easy, given the restrictions of our website at the moment.
For the videos that accompany each part of the series, I shot and edited them myself. My bosses at The Telegram were kind enough to support me about eighteen months ago when I told them I wanted to do some film classes at NIFCO, and I love being able to incorporate aspects of that in my job, though I still have a lot to learn.
Is It True This is Stemming into a Book?
Yes! Dan Norman and I are writing a book about his experiences with death – when he died in 2006, it wasn’t his first brush with it, amazingly, and what he experienced both times is beautiful, no matter where you believe it came from. He is an incredibly open, personable, funny man and a great storyteller, and there’s so much more to say about him than can’t fit in a newspaper article, especially when it comes to how his life has changed because of what he’s been through with death. He jokes around and says he can’t wait to die again. The book will be published by Creative Books this fall.
What’s It Like to See a Project You Were Particularly Excited about Be the One Recognized by a Journalism Award?
Fantastic! I’m especially excited that it was in the Best Multimedia Feature project, because that’s something of a new direction for newspapers, and it’s one we’re working hard on. It makes all those weeks I spent in cemeteries trying to get the right shots of stone angels even more worthwhile, ha!
What’s Something You Learned about Life from Writing about Living With Death?
You know what? Some of my favourite things I took from the series have nothing to do with death at all, but everything to do with life. For instance, something Rick Singleton (he’s director of pastoral care and ethics for Eastern Health) told me in an interview, in the context of grief for a lost loved one, applies to so many other life situations. He said, “To me, of all the things that are done and all the things that anyone can do, the most powerful and more effective intervention is allowing someone to openly and honestly tell their story. The only way you can get past a strong feeling, particularly a strong negative feeling, is to put it into words. The story eventually moves on from being a story about the facts to focusing on the feelings, to starting to focus on the future. It’s in the future that we start to find new meaning for things.” I don’t think there’s anyone around who can’t take something from that.