My 9-year-old tumbled from her bike the other day, and zipped a big chunk of skin off one knee. It looked awful, and bled worse.
And I was glad.
Not because my little girl was hurt. But because she still can be hurt; because shes alive.
Ive had several opportunities in the past year to talk to parents who arent so glad. Their children wont ever crash a bike or skin a knee again.
Ive got a pretty good imagination, but Ive been told emphatically it is impossible to imagine how bad it is to lose a child. Even though he was approaching 90 at the time, I remember how devastated my grandfather was when his youngest daughter, Elsie Thornton, died unexpectedly during surgery. A mans not sposed to bury his children, he sobbed. God, it tore me up.
I should be thankful, then, that the rest of his sons and daughters outlived him. I couldnt imagine him going through that again. The two children he lost in their infancy were different; they were sickly, and died at a time when big families stoically expected some wouldnt make it. But a grown woman like Aunt Elsie, still in her prime? That was nearly too much to take.
How much tougher is the gut-wrenching grief of seeing a child or teen-ager walk out the door and never come back again? Too many Columbia County families in the past year have been forced to find out.
One of those children died with her parents in a house fire; in some respects, those parents were the lucky ones, because they dont have to wake up every day with an empty bed in the next room, or stare in the evening at an empty spot across the dinner table.
Ive talked to a lot of those parents over the past year because a lot of Columbia Countys children have died. Last week we said, Oh, no; not another one. And then said it again the next day when another teenager died.
No parent is prepared for this, but some parents deal with it better than others. For many, grief exposes their emotions like a just-scraped knee, and every breath just makes it worse.
In that sense, the anger - at the newspaper for its coverage, at me for answering the phone, at the world for whatever - is part of the healing process. You cant be angry at your kid for dying, so you find catharsis in killing the messenger.
Some people are angry because we printed a picture of the vehicle in which two Greenbrier students were killed last year. The photo illustrated the accident that was the specific catalyst for a much-discussed new school policy on athletic travel.
Seeing that badly damaged SUV hurt them, and no amount of explanation makes them feel any better. And it saddens me that they could think we intentionally caused them pain.
Im a newspaper guy, one who tries every day to serve my community, the place where I grew up and am now raising my kids in. In looking for ways to highlight a story about the school boards effort to keep more children from dying, doing my job meant using a photo that unfortunately opened wounds that arent yet healed.
I wont apologize for this newspaper running a picture that accurately and fairly depicts the reason for a public discussion of tremendous importance.
I do, however, apologize to those families who believe I uncaringly added to their grief. Unable and unwilling to stand in their shoes, I nonetheless apologize for making those shoes more uncomfortable.
It wont make them feel any better, any more than taking my daughter to her favorite restaurant made her wounded knee heal any faster. But sometimes trying is just the best you can do, and you leave it at that.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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