More on Grief in the Media

Emily Stone, a good friend of the Bruisedmuse, directed me to an interesting New Yorker piece by David Sedaris, called “Journey into Night: Business Class Emotions.” The Sedaris essay tells of a night flight to Paris, during which a flight attendant asks David if she can move another passenger to sit beside him. The attendant explains that the man has lost his mother, and his crying is disturbing the other passengers. Sedaris says it would be all right to move him, and so the attendant brings the obviously bereaved man to sit beside Sedaris. Now I like the very popular Sedaris, who is often funny and thoughtful, and I even like the piece, particularly when I put on my literary hat.

When I put on my logic hat, I can’t help but wonder why the attendant believes the crying passenger will be any less disturbing to the passengers near Sedaris than to those sitting near his previous seat, but this is a minor point.

Ah, but when I put on my grief hat, I feel compelled to make a major point. I object. I need to point out that while it was lovely of Sedaris to allow the bereaved man to sit beside him, it was less than lovely to fail to offer even a single kind word to the man. And I find it somewhat bizarre that Sedaris admits this, almost smugly, in the New Yorker, and thus ends the piece with the following words:

I felt that I should say something, but what? And how? Perhaps it would be better, less embarrassing for him, if I were to pretend that he wasn’t crying—to ignore him, basically. And so I did.

Embarrassing? Is this a male worry or what? It certainly shows how little people, even popular writers, understand grief, and how little tolerance they have for it. Grief is often an uncontrollable flood. It’s not embarrassing; it’s human. The human thing would have been to understand.

I realize that this sort of ending probably satisfies a certain literary sensibility common to The New Yorker, and I’m certainly not one of those people who has drunk the Koolaid of thinking there might have been anything Sedaris could have said that would have helped ease this stranger’s pain. But still, he might have said something! “I’m sorry” would have been fine.  And THEN he could have ignored the bereaved man.

I also want to point out that Emily Stone, a wonderful writer, good friend, and highly thoughtful person, writes a great blog called ChocolateinContext. This blog goes down creamy, smooth, dark, and rich–perfect for chocolate lovers. I’m firmly in the vanilla camp myself, but I still love ChocolateinContext. I do have a certain compassion, in the Buddhist sense, for chocolate lovers. I feel their pain.

2 thoughts on “More on Grief in the Media

  1. As someone who has never experienced grief of any serious magnitude, I found this blog compelling. Regretably, I related to Sedaris. In my limited experience with other’s grief I have failed miserably at offering any type of solace. I wonder what is “appropriate”? Theoretically, I (as most human beings, I’m sure) would like to offer solace. Yet I worry that my words will ring hollow, that I’ll mispeak, that anything I say will be perceived as minimizing the bereaved’s pain or any other of a myriad of fears that only serve to stop me from offering any support. So, despite my good intentions I usually back away, not because I fear that grief is contagious but because I sincerely feel impotent. I would love to be able to say I would have listened to the man in the seat next to me and at least have provided a shoulder to cry on or at the least a kind word but even as I write this I fear that I will be viewed as heartless or uncaring for admiting my inability to “be with” the bereaved in any meaningful way.

  2. Ugh… too bad for Sedaris that a copy of your Grief Support article wasn’t sitting in the seat-back pocket in front of him.

    I think that this is one of the most frustrating aspects of grief survival – having to sit through the awkward silence when people pretend not to see that you’re so broken and hurt. Ignoring someone who is so obviously in need of a tender word is just as bad, possibly worse than saying the wrong thing.

    Shame on the flight attendants for trying to ease the discomfort of the other travelers by moving this gentleman (does that make ANY sense?).

    ok – I have to stop or I will rant on this one forever!

    Thanks for the post!

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