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A final, respectful tribute

November 08, 2005|by LINDA DUFFIELD

Those of us old enough to remember the assassination of President Kennedy are unlikely to have forgotten the aftermath, and especially the poignant pictures taken in Dallas, before and during his funeral.

Two photos stood out then and remain part of the public memory. One showed his young son John saluting. The other showed young John kneeling at his father's casket with his hand reaching under the covering flag to touch the wood of the coffin.

Those photos were taken of members of a family in a time of private sadness, but public grief.

At The Herald-Mail, we sometimes cover funerals, both of public people and of those with special ties to the community.

We also write stories about people who are killed in accidents and those who die at the hands of others.

We don't do these things out of voyeurism, and certainly not out of a desire to add to the grief of the families involved.

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Rather, we run such stories because they are a way to pay tribute to the deceased and to give their families a chance to pay final tribute to their loved ones.

In the cases of those who died violent deaths, stories quoting those who knew the victim help ensure that those who died are seen by our readers not as statistics, but as flesh-and-blood people.

When we cover a funeral, we usually get a call or two from readers who are angry that we intruded on what should have been a private time for a grieving family.

I understand that the presence of the media seems intrusive. That is why we do not show up unannounced at a funeral or memorial service.

Our normal procedure is to contact the family of the deceased and ask permission to send a reporter and photographer.

Such permission usually is granted, but when it is not, we stay away.

Sometimes, family members will approve of a reporter attending, but will ask that we not send a photographer. We comply with their wishes.

We take the concept of paying tribute to those who have died a step further with our A Life Remembered column, which runs every Sunday in The Herald-Mail.

Reporter Marlo Barnhart each week interviews family members who lost a loved one in the preceding week. Each story is accompanied by a recent photo of the person whose life is being remembered, and frequently by a photo from the person's past - perhaps a wedding picture or a childhood snapshot.

These accounts are touching, loving and anecdote-filled, told in the words of spouses, children, sisters, brothers, other relatives and friends.

In the newsroom, we see writing a story about a person's life as being one of the greatest tributes we can pay them.

It is our hope that these stories help families keep alive the memory of their loved ones.

Linda Duffield is associate editor of The Herald-Mail. She may be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7591, or by e-mail at lindad@herald-mail.com.

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