Grief and the Media

The media has a mostly sorry record when it comes to reporting on the subject of grief. Consider how many reporters you’ve seen on television standing in front of houses where tragedy has struck, holding their microphones, babbling about closure? The word “closure” should be banned from the American vocabulary. There is no such thing. I’m a different person than I was before I lost my son, and my loss informs every day of my life, even thirteen years later. This blog is, if nothing else, testimony to that. Psychologists have proposed many ways to describe how we find a way to live with loss, but the one I find most useful is that we must find our own way to “reinvest” in a new reality without the lost one. I eventually wrote a novel and my husband and I established an educational program for toddlers with special needs called “Jumpstart,” in memory of our son. Another friend of mine, Amy Barzach, co-wrote a memoir and started “Boundless Playgrounds,” a national non-profit that builds playgrounds accessible to all children, in memory of hers. But reinvestment can be small and private too. We incorporate our losses into our lives. The only question is what kind of person we will become as we do so.

There are exceptions in the media, of course. Some years back, when I was promoting my novel, Saving Elijah, I did an interview with NPR’s Marty Moss Cone, and Marty was prepared, respectful, interested, and, ultimately, willing to hear and learn. Connie Martinson, of the television show, Connie Martinson Talks Books, was another prepared and respectful interviewer.

Yesterday morning I did a radio interview with the brilliant, compassionate Binnie Klein on WPKN (89.5FM Bridgeport & 88.7FM Montauk), about grief, specifically an article I recently wrote called Grief 101: How to Help a Bereaved Friend or Relative. The article, which is based on my own experience as a bereaved mother, and on my observations of other bereaved people, makes the point that people naturally turn away from raw emotions like grief, and that the techniques people use are actually aimed at making themselves feel better, and make the bereaved feel even worse. Most people have good intentions, of course, but haven’t a clue how to “be with” the bereaved.

I commend Binnie for being willing to talk openly and honestly with me about this subject. It was a great interview.

And I couldn’t help but be reminded of the contrast with the very last interview I did when promoting my novel. No kidding, the radio interviewer got me on the phone, on the air, and said, “We have with us Fran Dorf, who’s written a novel inspired by the loss of her son. Hmmmmm. We had someone else who lost a child on the show last week. There must be a lot of that going around.”

I got through that Jackie Gleeson moment, called my publicist, and told her I was through trying to promote my book.

Next post: How to “Be With” the bereaved.

4 thoughts on “Grief and the Media

  1. I too have found that the public as a whole can be somewhat and sometimes outrageously insensitive to a grieving person’s experience. That’s why I too write about my grief experience as a widow. I use my voice to help others understand, even at times when I didn’t always have all the answers myself. May you be well. elaine

  2. It was a pleasure to conduct a radio interview with you, Fran, on WPKN-FM. The depth of your experience and your willingness/ability to articulate it was a real treat for the listening audience. As you said, we live in a very “spun” culture — huge events and emotions rapidly cycling, with hasty interpretations, rushes to “closure,” when closure is impossible, or not even necessary…
    Grief is a body of water.

  3. Fran,

    I would love to read Grief 101, but can’t find it on this site. Can you direct me to it?



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