May 14, 2018
“Remember this, that there is a proper dignity and proportion to be observed in the performance of every act of life.”
–Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor
An astonishing news story broke in the west of Ireland, March 2011. A local woman was missing from a favorite village that I had often visited. My husband and I heard the news on Clare FM Radio as we were arriving at our destination–Ballyvaughan, a tiny village in the west of Ireland, perched on the edge of Galway Bay. It was a “soft” weather day, meaning the sky was clear, the temperature mild, and the breeze gentle. We arrived to find a noisy search helicopter hovering overhead, and numerous garda (police) in yellow jackets moving around the old pier. Divers were bobbing in and out of the frigid waters. Gathered around in small circles were dozens of locals, standing with hunched shoulders and wearing somber faces. But something was missing. Suddenly it struck me. There was no evidence of the media. No satellite trucks. No cameras. No reporters asking probing questions.
Within two days we learned that a body had washed ashore in the nearby village of Fanore. That night we visited our favorite Ballyvaughan pub hoping to have our moods lifted by a traditional Irish music session. To our surprise, the there was no music. Just dozens of people whispering in a collective monotone. The barkeep apologized, adding that it would not be dignified to have music while so many are grieving.
The next day it was revealed that the body washed ashore was that of the missing woman. She was a long-time local with many relatives in the village of less than 300 people. That night, a Friday, we learned that a Ballyvaughan man had attempted suicide, and was hospitalized in a nearby town. We learned all of this from brief news reports on Clare Radio, and from rumors in the village. The garda and divers quietly left the area while funeral plans were made, and still there was a noticeable absence of media.
That Sunday, which happened to be Mother’s Day in Ireland, we attended mass at the invitation of the local priest. Father Richard surprised everyone when he stepped down from the pulpit and moved out among the people. “We have two grieving mothers here today,” he announced. The priest was standing among the community for a reason. “Let this tragedy not divide our community. Let us come together as one extended family, with respect, honor and dignity.” He was making a huge public statement, the first to say openly that the accused was indeed the suicidal man. No media was present to scoop the story.
The dead woman’s wake would be Monday night, followed by her funeral mass on Tuesday. I asked an Irish friend why the local fellow had not been arrested. He replied, “Oh, that won’t happen until after the funeral mass. For the dignity of the family, you know.” As a typical American news junkie, and former television producer, this was stunning news to me. Delay a news story for the dignity of the family? True to my friend’s word, the suicidal man was arrested literally thirty minutes after the close of woman’s funeral mass and burial.
It was four months later when I learned that the accused was a married father of two and was held in custody under accusations of murder. Every week I continued to search on-line for updates on the case. I was continually stunned by the lack of news reporting. Stunned and humbled, because in truth why would I want to know sordid details of the case? Where is my sense of dignity?
I have been trained by our media to hunger for details of intriguing news stories. How quickly we learn intimate details of victims and perpetrators! Families, friends and neighbors will be hounded for interviews, sometimes for weeks and months, even years. The Kyron Horman disappearance comes to mind. He’s the little boy who disappeared from an Oregon elementary school in June 2010. What roll has dignity played in that unsolved tragedy? I recall the escapades around the trial of Casey Anthony, accused of murdering her precious toddler. Images and interviews, shown on CNN, sucked me in every time I passed by our television. The shocking acquittal was breaking news. Her lawyers were already shopping around her story to various news outlets. My God, where is the dignity in that? Upon returning from Ireland that spring, I learned about the unexpected death of singer Amy Winehouse. I could already anticipate the cover of People Magazine. Would the story inside be one of respect, honor and dignity? I hope I looked dignified when I purchased my copy of the magazine at the grocery store check-out line.