Why the public needs to respect the time to mourn
By Mercedes Deutscher, Staff Writer
It’s terrible when someone passes away. Dealing with the death of a friend or a family member is one of life’s greatest challenges. Chances are, the loved ones of the recently deceased are hurt, angry, and confused. It’s during this time that those who are left behind are most vulnerable. Thus, it is reasonable and respectful to honour those loved ones’ right to grieve. Yet in some cases, the media and public are not respectful of that grieving period.
When I was 16, a good friend of mine committed suicide inside of our high school. Many factors had built up to her untimely death, such as depression and anxiety. One of the largest reasons, I believe, was that she had recently come out to her friends and some of her family as a lesbian, yet was terrified to come out to her strictly conservative father, who was a Jehovah’s Witness.
Several of her friends and I were contacted by the local media, who were trying to find out the reasons behind this tragedy. We were instructed by the victim’s mother and a close teacher to leave no comment, so we didn’t speak to them.
Despite what our personal feelings were on the subject, her family was mourning. To bring attention to them in such a vulnerable time would be cruel and can only lengthen the healing process.
Recently, I heard the story of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen in Ohio, and how she too committed suicide. Her parents were conservative and didn’t accept Alcorn’s gender identity, as revealed in a suicide note that she posted on Tumblr. Alcorn’s suicide has received international attention, with many calling for criminal charges to be laid against her parents. Alcorn’s family has received threats and had to move the location and date of the funeral in order to avoid a mass public appearance.
Sadly, this is not the first time that the public has been so involved in the passing of an individual. In 1998, the murder of Matthew Shepard received similar attention due to its relation to hate crime. Protestors, such as the Westboro Baptist Church, objected at Shepard’s funeral and condemned his lifestyle.
All of these cases are examples that there are some deeply unresolved issues in society. In time, the deaths of these individuals should be referred to when trying to make change. Eleven years after his death, Shepard’s case was taken into account when President Obama created the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The suicide of my friend, along with some activism, resulted in better attitudes towards LGBTQ staff and students in my high school. With time and patience, the situations faced by these victims can be improved.
But that time should not be immediately. The families of all of these people are devastated. No number of calls for reform or threats can bring their loved ones back. No one should arrive at a family member or close friend’s funeral and be bombarded with cameras, questions, and hurtful slurs.
These are all people who are mourning and grieving. There is a long process ahead of them, and their life will never return to the way it once was. Yet with time, their loss will sting a little less, and perhaps they will be ready to come to terms with the situation and talk about it. Until then, they should be allowed to grieve and recover in peace.