This was a hard week to be a journalist, especially in Chapel Hill.
There was a death that we were all expecting, but never wanted to believe could happen.
There was a tragedy that none of us expected and will never understand.
Then there was our coverage on these events, and the criticism/commentary on said coverage.
In between vigils and frantic calls to family members and friends, there is an unknown pain that accompanies covering tragedy. You know that there will be tears and hoarse voices and incredible stories about the person or people you are unfortunately covering. But just because you know this is coming doesn’t make it any easier.
This summer, my article on The Daily Tar Heel’s website was the first to report that UNC student Harris Pharr had died. I spent all day that day trying to confirm this poor kid’s death, and when I finally posted my story, it hit me. I sobbed like a child for the entirety of the half hour drive back to Cary.
Once I got home, I probably spent about 3 hours talking to my mom about everything — what I had covered, what the weather was like, why I wanted to grow a mustache so bad, who should have to take out the trash (note: it shouldn’t have to be me, that’s all I’m saying). And as I stood up from the table that night, I had the overused metaphorical ton lifted from not just my shoulders, but my soul.
It sucks to cover stuff like this. Don’t get me wrong — I love the rush of reporting on a crime scene and being the first to put out a story. That part is why journalists deal with the uncomfortable parts. Like calling the family. Like asking for pictures. Like realizing that this person or these people you’re writing about were kind, caring, loving, fun, ambitious, energetic, intelligent people who are going to be missed by more people than you can count, and they all had families who loved and cared for them more than you want to imagine. And you will put yourself in their shoes subconsciously, and you will feel a millionth of the pain and sadness they are feeling. And this will momentarily overcome you with grief.
But you move on with what you do. And you decompress.
This is so key to surviving. For me, it was my mom. It was her sympathizing with what I was going through while also gently pulling me away from a subject that had dominated my mind for eight straight hours. For others, it might be spending a day away from the office, doing whatever clears their heads.
The important thing is to just do it though. Because, like ripping off a Band-aid or sitting down in an ice bath, it will be miserable at first. All the suppressed emotion will rise to the surface and boil over — that’s good, that’s healthy.
We shouldn’t run from emotion, because it is faster than we are. It sneaks up when we least expect it and puts us on our ass.
But when you face it head on, it can only fight for so long before it relents and that’s what you strive for. To overcoming the relenting emotion, and move on.