As many of you know we had a terrible crash between a double decker bus and a passenger rail train in Ottawa last week. Six people were killed and dozens were injured on the bus. Following the crash there were many photos published in the newspapers and online of the bus with the front sheared off and of the train which derailed as a result of the collision. A couple of days after the crash we learned the names of the five passengers and the driver of the bus who were killed and the Ottawa Citizen ran stories about each of the people killed.Of course almost from the instant the crash occurred we collectively speculated about the potential causes. How could such a crash occur? Was it a mechanical failure? Was it a design flaw with the level crossing? Should there be an under or overpass at that site to prevent these sorts of collisions? Was it driver error? Was it a driver health issue?
There were also many conversations about the seconds and chance. If the bus or the train had been ten seconds earlier or later the outcome would have been different. We heard stories about people who are normally on the bus and missed it or people who normally sat at the front of that bus and who were at the back this time. I sat down with our girls to talk to them about the crash because we couldn’t avoid the news coverage and I take the bus to work virtually every day and once a month I take the train to my other office. I pass through the crash site when I take the train and so I wanted them to know that the chances of me being involved in such a crash were very very remote. Out of the thousands of trips that happen every day in the city it is pretty rare that there is any significant incident.
We live near the main train station in Ottawa and my dad who lives in the US heard the news about the crash and that it was near a train station in Ottawa so he called to check in on us and make sure we were ok and to find out if the crash was near us.
So now a week later it is the week of funerals. I don’t know any of the people who died, although I know at least one of the train passengers and one of the bus passengers and I have done work with the father of one of the people who died.
The local papers are carrying stories about the funerals and the people who died. They are writing about the grief felt by the families and friends of the people who died. Most egregiously they are carrying photos from the funerals and of the grieving families.
I understand the human interest aspect of the story. These people died while doing the minutiae of daily life. They were commuting to work or school. They did nothing to deserve this. They were not killed out of malice or in some plot. They were not doing something stupid that cost them their lives. They were just doing what many of us do everyday. So of course people are interested in the stories because they are people just like us. It is easy to identify with them and their families. As such we all grieve with them because we can understand how we would feel in similar circumstances.
I think the grief of these families is none of our business. They should be allowed to experience their grief privately and in their own way without it being splashed on the front page of the paper. For some the public grieving and public sharing of their grief may be helpful. They have lost someone in their lives and there is now a hole in their universe and it can be comforting to have other people recognize that loss too. For others they may prefer to curl up in a dark room and sob.
We can share in their grief and provide privacy at the same time. The media – social media included – can write about the person who has died without writing about the family who has lost them. They can write about what was said about the person at their funeral without showing photos of grief and sorrow. We can share and comfort and be respectful at the same time.
So as a start can we at least stop publishing photos of the funerals and the faces of grief?