Home > Grief & Loss, media, television > Too Much Grief, Then Too Little

Too Much Grief, Then Too Little

Jack Schafer’s post in today’s Slate Magazine bemoans the coverage of Tim Russert’s recent and sudden death, complaining of the “televised wake” that has pre-empted news coverage on all the major networks for the past several days.

After listing the litany of tributes and whining about all the attention paid to the late Mr. Russert, Mr. Schafer brags about having reluctantly written an article for a friend of his who is now dearly departed. “And the piece,” he sneers, “was only 1200 words.”

Of course, I’m no journalist, but I’m a viewer, and the tributes on television are helpful to me, surely much more heartfelt and honest journalism than the crap news reporting we are usually subject to.

Obviously, some of the excess is due to the shock of Mr. Russert’s death. It’s well known among grief specialists that sudden deaths are more immediately traumatic than deaths following long illnesses. Even the funerals are different; a very long illness might cause one’s friends to slowly fall away; less people may be present at the funeral of someone who “finally died.” But sudden deaths provoke an outpouring of shock and grief. We idealize the lost person, and we are openly (and some say, more justifiably) devastated.

In America, we don’t have a culture of grief. We don’t wear black dresses or armbands here. Wailing and weeping is not encouraged, as it is in other places. People suppress their feelings and are then described as “so strong” and commended on how “well” they are dealing with the loss. I have been reminded of this repeatedly, as I have lost several friends & relatives.

It seems to me that this coverage is therapeutic–not just to those who knew Mr. Russert, but for all of us. Maybe celebrity deaths, and the accompanying journalistic coverage, is the American way of dealing with loss. It’s not an armband, but it certainly helps to contrast with all that Law & Order, Grand Theft Auto style pretend-death we are surrounded with.

Even if we didn’t know Mr. Russert or even watch his shows, the suddenness of his death brings mortality home for all of us. Following the coverage gives us a chance to honor this, to take comfort in the family we have right now and appreciate the fragility of life.

Unfortunately Mr. Schafer’s article reveals more about himself than about the “overdone grief.” He and other journalists who complain are missing the point, wondering what all the fuss is for when Tim Russert is already gone.

But funerals, as even Mr. Schafer must surely realize, are for the living.

  1. June 18, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    This is such a tragedy.

    Clearly, the wall-to-wall coverage of a reporter’s passing indicates that we should cancel the elections this year. This is more tragic than 9/11 or the Holocaust.

    With such a tragedy, who can possibly care about the thousands in peril due to bad weather in the Midwest and South, and who can possibly focus on such minor issues like the hundreds that are killed on a weekly basis in Afghanistan and Iraq?

    Please, MSNBC, just turn into the all Russert all the time network. Can we maybe get a one week retrospective on his passing, with monthly updates on how his cemetery plot grass changes in length with the seasons?

  2. secretsociologist
    June 19, 2008 at 10:54 am

    Hi LoomisNews. Your sense of humor and sarcasm have been duly noted.

    The point is not that Mr. Russert’s death is more important than anything else. The point is that the death of one public figure is easier for people to take note of, and thus relate to. The outpouring of grief helps us with that.

    Thanks for sufficiently reminding me of all the other tragedies in the world, which I had completely forgotten. I’m sure you would deliver this with the same tone of voice you use to remind your kids that they’d better eat all their food, so as not to offend all those starving children on the other side of the world.

  3. June 19, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    Why do you hate starving children?

  1. June 28, 2009 at 11:55 pm
  2. June 29, 2009 at 10:42 am

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