Collecting The Best Ways To Die

May 23, 2011

It's not a story infrequently told, but it never fails to catch my eye: the trials and tribulations of working the obituary beat. Susan McCarty works the death desk at a regional paper in Iowa, where, as most everywhere, the job "is the journalistic equivalent of starting in the mailroom, complete with tiny humiliations and tiny paychecks."

Her tale, a cautionary one for budding journalists, also contains a tip for families that lose a loved one. She writes, "most of the obituaries and notices I receive from funeral homes have glaring errors in them." And for those of us who imagine how things will go down after our own deaths (I, for one, am intrigued by burials at sea), she notes, "in death all lives look alike," a predictable narrative arc that includes high school, hobbies and survivors.

So how does she cope with a sometimes morbid, often mind-numbing job? By collecting the best ways to die. This is the most interesting secret of her story — often, the obituary writer is privy to the real cause of death, which doesn't make the paper. The best so far? A man who jumped to his death from a hot-air balloon. What a way to go. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit