Put grief on the front page


Put grief on the front page


By: Anthony Galanos
Posted: 4/20/07

The media coverage of the tragedy at Virginia Tech is rewarding insanity and complicating grief. But there are 32 families, and an entire university who are grieving. Not sad, not upset, not disgruntled... but GRIEVING. And how we treat them in this critical period will determine how they cope now and what the legacy of this past week will be for them.

Almost as sad as the loss of life is that this American culture acts like it knows not what grieving is. You want to see grieving, find any child 10 years of age or younger and watch them after their dog or cat dies. It is not a profound concept; it does not require a degree in philosophy or theological training. It is a natural process, common to all humanity. Why we ignore it or complicate it, I do not know, but to accent anything at this raw moment but the grief of the people involved is to confuse them-no, is to use them and to make their journey more complicated and more traumatic than it already is. If my 18-year-old daughter were shot and killed in her dorm, and the only way it was described by her college president was as a "domestic situation" because they thought she had dated the shooter, I would be outraged. I would wonder why this man or woman was on TV and not acknowledging my loss. I would wonder why a famous news anchor is blaming him for police matters (my assumption is that most college presidents know little, if anything, about police work) when I just lost my daughter. And, if the task of losing my child were not difficult enough, then I would have to cope with the media, stating without any evidence whatsoever, that perhaps my daughter's life "could have been spared". Now, and forever, that "what if" question would dominate me. It was not random or the product of psychosis. It was someone's fault, or so say the pundits. What would have been a normal grieving process, is now complicated. I was not afraid to grieve, but my grieving may have no end point.

As a clinician, let me pronounce, just like the talking heads on TV, that you have no right to comment on my loss. Indeed, unless you have every fact available, know without doubt how and why it happened or I abdicate it to you... you have no right to judge or comment on my loss. That right does not belong to Matt Lauer or NBC or my priest. It belongs to me and my family. She was ours, not yours. Neither your camera, your microphone or your best intentions allow you to take this moment from us. We teach doctors in training how to deliver "bad news." We have learned that such moments belong to patients and families, not to us. And that our simple presence there, however silent, is more powerful than our explanations of physiology or what went wrong.

Cannot we just say "let us let the grieving begin" and we can sort out the details when all of the data are in... and the facts are known? Can we not just let the students at Virginia Tech and the families, just tell us about the people they lost. Who were they? What were they like? How do you want us to remember them? This would be the line of questioning that would let any healing have any chance of taking hold. Can we not simply acknowledge that this moment is theirs, not ours or that of the media? Who was not touched by the dad being interviewed who said at the end of the segment that his daughter's body had not yet been released to him or his family, and that they wanted to see her. The interviewer asked him what he would do if he could see his daughter, almost puzzled by why this guy was asking to "see my daughter." He responded, "so that I can kiss her face." Is that not grieving? Is that not how this man will cope and heal over time? Do we not instinctively know what he is saying? Of course we do, and parents all over America hugged and kissed their children this week. How many phone calls did Duke students receive from parents this week? For some reason, we often wait to express our feelings for one another at the end, on the "death bed," but this man's open grief spurred us to action in the moment. Indeed, "why wait?"

This should not just be the purview of doctors, chaplains and counselors. This belongs to all of us, all of humankind. Put grief on the front page, and let the culture of blame do its bidding on the back pages, whether it is Virginia Tech or Iraq. Wherever there is loss of life, particularly of the magnitude of this past Monday or every Monday in Iraq, let us learn how to grieve and how to allow the families involved to grieve. Do not ask me who is to blame, or whether my child could have been spared. Ask me who my child was and then just sit there and be quiet. I will share with you that I need to kiss my child one more time. I will grieve.

Do not let the media, however well intentioned, teach you how not to grieve. You already know how.

<i>Anthony Galanos, Trinity &#39;75, works at Duke University Medical Center in the Department of Medicine and the Palliative Care Service.</i>


Original Source: <a href=http://media.www.dukechronicle.com/media/storage/paper884/news/2007/04/20/Columns/Put-Grief.On.The.Front.Page-2871376.shtml> Duke Chronicle - April 20, 2007</a>


Anthony Galanos




Sara Hood


David Graham <david.graham@duke.edu>





Anthony Galanos, “Put grief on the front page,” The April 16 Archive, accessed May 23, 2024, https://april16archive.org/items/show/594.