Grief is not a spectator sport. I began writing this weeks and weeks ago but struggled with the attitude my earlier drafts conveyed. Recently, though, I was inspired by a post written by Megan Devine entitled “Have You Been the News? When Private Pain Is a Public Spectacle.” [I hope you’ll take time to read the insightful telling of her experience and outlook.]
I used to watch, read, and listen to news around the clock. I felt for people whose lives were impacted by tragedy. I offered prayers in their behalf. I loaned my (admittedly scant) resources toward alleviating their sufferings or helping others in similar circumstances.
In January 2006, “the news” became more personal. I’d known Amber Peck — a bright and loving, cheerful and inquisitive young woman — through my friends, her brother and sister-in-law. The first time I heard newscasters report on missing campers in the Ocala National Forest, I didn’t hear their names, but I nevertheless offered a prayer for them and their families. It wasn’t until the next day I learned Amber was one of the two.
News coverage that once fingertip-touched my heart into a skipped beat now threw it into unfamiliar pounding. From that moment on, news reports of missing persons have meant recalling the unbearable pain of uncertainty. I witnessed tiny fragments of what Amber’s family experienced during those agonizing (yet hopeful) days before she and her friend were found. After their untimely deaths, I witnessed her family’s suffering up close. I grieved for their loss, and I grieved Amber for myself, too.
In the years that followed, I still read or listened to the news. However, I all but stopped watching broadcasts — tuning in only for the weather — because I couldn’t bear seeing victims’ or survivors’ eyes. Watching “real life” news stories meant witnessing “real life” loss, and I’d learned a friend’s fraction of that pain. Even features with positive outcomes elicited shameful envy. While I rejoiced over reunions for the “lucky” story-of-the-day families, the finality of the Pecks’ loss left me “jealous” in their behalf.
My aversion to the news intensified after my husband died. Where news organizations reported causes of war, terrorism, natural disasters, crashes, and crimes, I heard and saw stories of grieving survivors. I wept for the dead, but I sobbed for their loved ones.
The next time you hear about breaking news, chances are the “real life” story is of breaking hearts, forever changed. If you know the family, do offer your condolences. Share memories of their loved one. Be with them in body and spirit — and remain with them long after the cameras and recorders have clicked off.