STAFF OPINION: Read the obituary section

By William Seekamp | November 16, 2020 9:10am
William Seekamp is the sports editor for The Beacon.
Media Credit: Annika Gordon / The Beacon

Think back to the last time you logged on to your favorite online news publication.

What sections did you read?

For me, my instinct is to click over to the opinions section, because it helps me interpret a world that seems to be growing more complex by the day.

I also frequently check the politics section because it feels like every time I refresh the page there is a new groundbreaking story that will alter the course of US politics forever. 

And the news section moves at a million miles a minute. You can spend your entire day reading the news section and only consume a fraction of the newsworthy events going on in the world.

Frankly, I have been feeling overwhelmed by the world lately. If I don’t listen to my two news podcasts and check the New York Times at least three times a day I feel like I am missing out on critical information that is necessary to remain a well-informed citizen.

This coupled with the 15 week gauntlet of a reactionary, unhealthy university lifestyle feels suffocating. Over the last two semesters, I often find myself asking how anyone can slow down and look beyond the day-to-day minutiae of life.

For most of my time in college, I have found myself trapped in a self-destructive cycle caused by a fear of failure. My stress stems from my fear of not excelling in my classes, which causes me to hyper-focus on them, in turn neglecting my friends, family and, most importantly, myself. 

I end up prioritizing expediency over my own health: I don’t eat right, I stop exercising, I am lucky if I sleep more than five and a half hours a night and I don’t take the time to care for myself. The pent up stress manifests itself in an unjustified anger that I take out on the people closest to me. 

One method I have found for coping with the stress of school is reading the obituary section. It helps me take a step back and a deep breath from my coursework and allows me to recalibrate with myself.

I was first introduced to obituaries by my Dad, who would periodically text me links to New York Times obits I would never end up reading.

Like a lot of people, I never gave them a chance. I always thought it would be morbid and depressing to read about someone's death. It didn't resonate with me that they were about reliving someone's life, not sensationalizing their death.

This changed last summer, when on a whim, I started listening to The New York Times Book of the Dead, a compilation of more than 300 obituaries featured in the New York Times. 

After the first few, I was hooked. 

There is something about reading an account of someone's life that is cathartic. It puts into perspective my current, menial struggles and reassures me that whatever I am dealing with, no matter how big it may seem in the moment, I will be okay.

I believe that death provides our lives with a sense of urgency, which forces us to create meaning in our lives. If we could live forever, we would end up doing nothing and our lives would be filled with melancholy and apathy.

Obituaries force me to think about my life in the aggregate. What can I do to lead a life worth living? How can I best spend my time left on this planet? How will I be remembered? 

These questions, although daunting, are a welcomed breath of fresh air to me. I get so caught up in meeting whatever deadline is next that I don’t spend nearly enough time prioritizing myself.

So, if you have been feeling overwhelmed by the world lately, next time you log on to your favorite news publication, read an obituary or two. At the very least you will learn about the life of a remarkable person and if you’re like me, it will help you reconnect with yourself in an increasingly chaotic world.

William Seekamp is the sports editor for The Beacon. He can be reached at

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