My mother, Amelia, died on Monday. I never knew it could hurt so much.
As a writer, I have composed what seems like volumes of brave words about other people's sorrow. But now I know for myself what they, and millions like them, are going through each day. A survivor's world is filled with secret sorrows. And this week, I tasted that grief.
Reporting on death and dying is one thing daily journalism does well. A golf celebrity dies in a downed aircraft, a professional football Hall of Famer loses his life to cancer, office workers are shot and killed by a lone gunman, a passenger-filled jumbo jet crashes at sea, two teens are gunned down returning from a church Halloween party: These are the kinds of events that we in the press go to great lengths to present in your morning paper or on TV and radio news.
We may not be great shakes at explaining why this and not that person died. But when it comes to describing the who, what, where, when or how of a Payne Stewart's sudden death, the horrifying end to 217 souls on board EgyptAir Flight 990 or the gentle fading away of a Walter Payton, we can dig up more details than most people would ever want to know. And newsgathering doesn't stop with our reporting on the way people die.
We are at our best when it comes to telling you all about the somber songs that get sung, the funeral gloom, the sighs, the falling tears, the sad farewells. But those stories don't stay on Page 1 or at the top of the news very long. When the eulogies end, the hugging stops and the day draws to an end, we in the press can be found gearing up for the next news event.
And here's the part that doesn't get told so well: Grief, so dutifully reported but not really felt by us, stays behind.
Sorrow lingers with those people we conveniently tuck under the catchword "survivors." They are the wives and mothers, husbands and fathers, the sons and daughters, the friends left to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and go on. They are the ones we expect to eventually get back up to speed, to continue to function, prosper even, after the death of a loved one. And we hardly give you time to know them before we make them disappear from our pages and the airwaves altogether, lumped in with yesterday's stories.
Survivors make it easy for us to get on with the next big national or local story. Our last view of them is usually an image of people standing tall, managing wan smiles as they greet well-wishers at the post-funeral reception. Their bravery or stoicism in the grip of grief allows us to overlook their hidden misery. But they put a lie to the saying that suffering ends with death. It certainly is not true for the living.
And so today, my thoughts are with those men, women and children who make up the rest of the story.
I now know why Deborah Ford still cries when she holds the picture of her 15-year-old slain son, Rowland, wearing his football uniform. I can ache for Tammy Jackson as she describes her son, Doniell Smith, who with Rowland was killed in a hail of bullets last Sunday night. If Tracey Stewart; her children, 13-year-old Chelsea and Aaron, 10; or Connie Payton, son Jarrett and daughter Brittney speak of heartache, I'll understand.
The dying will continue. There will be more shocks, and tragedies, and tears and tributes. But this time around, I'll not only report and comment on the pain: I'll feel it too.