Obituaries are essential pieces of journalism. I’ve written a lot of them. Some days, more than one. Part of that process is reaching out to the people most affected by a person’s death. These are families, friends, and coworkers—and when it’s a public figure, their fans—all deep in grief, and often in shock.
It is painful opening up to a stranger about the trauma of losing a loved one. Most of the time, though, people agree to talk. It’s a chance to set the record straight, and ensure there is a record.
Amid the chaos of events unfolding this week, family and friends from George Floyd’s life have opened up about him. They’re expressing love for “Big Floyd,” a “gentle giant” who had compassion for those suffering around him. They’re talking about his work to de-escalate situations as a bouncer at Conga Latin Bistro in Northeast Minneapolis. They’re remembering his talents as a rapper in Houston, a “twin” to an NBA star, and as an athlete himself.
Many are grieving George Floyd just as we’re getting to know him. And we shouldn’t stop getting to know him. The public’s introduction was the excruciating video of a Minneapolis Police officer with a knee on Floyd’s neck, and the reports of his death soon after. The rebukes by public officials and the protests, both peaceful and not, will attract the cameras and word counts in the days to come. Same for any criminal proceedings, which turn matters of the heart into matters of procedure.
It is critical to zoom out and understand what happened this week, and what has been happening to communities of color. The loss of George Floyd comes during a season of loss that has claimed more than 100,000 U.S. lives. The disturbing tie is that black Americans have died—historically, by the hands of police, and during the COVID-19 pandemic—at disproportionately higher rates.
However, zooming out on this tragedy isn’t an option for the people who knew George Floyd and have spoken out on his behalf. No person’s passing should be cited only to make the case for a disturbing trend. The harrowing details of his final minutes alive were not his life in total. We can read the news and continue to grieve what happened, but also remember that it happened to one of our neighbors in one of our communities.
There will be much more said about the events outside Cup Foods for years to come, and that information will be easier to find than an obituary. It should not drown out George Floyd’s legacy. He lived in St. Louis Park and is the father of two daughters. He was a valued employee. He gave love to others, and was loved. Floyd was 46.
Private funeral services will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Thursday in the Lindquist Sanctuary of the Trask Word & Worship Center at North Central University in Minneapolis. Find more details here. A live stream will be available.
Right now, there are a lot of people who are missing someone who made their lives tangibly better. They are fighting through the pain of loss to provide a record of his contributions. In a widening sea of narratives, his obituaries need to be read, and these voices deserve to be heard.
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As more tributes are found, they will be added here.