Wick Communications

Constructive compassion in difficult times

In Writing techniques on 15 Sep 2016 at 11:48 am


Due to recent events in Half Moon Bay, I’ve been thinking a lot about death of late. Don’t mean to be morbid. In fact, the suicides, car and plane crashes and even bear attacks that I’ve covered this month have not left me feeling particularly blue, but they have made me think hard about how to converse with people in various states of mourning.

It’s one of the things that makes being a reporter difficult. It may sound strange, but I also find it life-affirming.

In my experience, more often than not, loved ones want a chance to discuss the lives lived if not the recent deaths, per se. When something terrible happens, and you’re called to report it, the job begins with considering the right source. In the case of the bear attack, I thought that might be the victim’s father. For the plane crash, I went with official sources, but only because the local victim was a bit mysterious and I couldn’t find local friends and family. You don’t want to call the widow before she even hears the bad news, which is something, unfortunately, I’ve done. Now I think two and three times about who is ready to take my call.

If you do call people who are actively grieving, I suggest a respectful professionalism that allows some remove. I tell family and friends I am sorry for their loss. I tell them I am interested in an accurate portrayal of their loved one and that I want to know something beyond the facts of the terrible thing. I ask if there is anything else they want me to know about this individual. I often ask for a photograph that they think captured something special.

I happened upon this blog post, about a family in the funeral business in Louisiana. They speak of “constructive compassion” and the value of doing a job that needs to be done in a very difficult time. This week, I’m using that term as something of a motto. Perhaps you find something in the term too.



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