Tag Archive | Media

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.

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.