Hokie, Hokie, Hokie High, Tech, Tech, VPI

The act of public grieving has put me at odds with myself.

I am, after all, a reporter. We stick our noses where they might not belong on behalf of our readers.

And that can mean sticking it inside a funeral home or in the center of a family saying their last goodbyes.

I’m never over eager to make the calls to the loved ones, repeating a mantra in my head, “it’s better to talk about it.”

I tell myself that people want to tell the stories of those who have gone on before us, that it’s cathartic, it’s part of the grieving process. I’m not even sure who I’m trying to convince. Standing with a notebook and camera at the final services or burial, I feel twitchy as though I’m dressed in ill-fitting clothing. I can’t sit still, but I’m trying desperately to fade into the woodwork.

I’m painfully aware that I do not belong here, this is not my time to say goodbye.

I wonder at the people who attend the funerals of people they’ve never met – whether it’s to pay respects to a fallen soldier, fireman or policeman.

Funerals of the heroes become spectacles. Although at these the curious often have more honorable intentions than those who crowd in to say goodbye to celebrities who have passed away, they are still making themselves feel better in a place where the family and friends of the deceased have come to touch true pain.

I’ve told myself more than once that my presence, my reporting, can keep others at bay. That one of me is better than hordes of onlookers.

I can’t shake the feeling even at funerals where I “belong.”

Sniffling, frantically wiping tears with the edge of my palm, I will myself to stop. I can’t help feeling that my grief can’t compare to the family, to the people who were really left behind.

Last week, when a man shot up the Virginia Tech campus, I was aware the nation would react as one, that there would be cries of public mourning sessions, public memorials.

My stomach filled with dread.

That evening, I went home to find every television in the house blaring with news of the shootings in Blacksburg, Va.

The computer was on in our office, a section of the college’s Web-page splashed across the screen.
My laid-back Southern husband was watching the TV, turning at every commercial break back to the computer to avoid any break in the flow of news.

He was in a sort of panic, a heightened state of awareness. He watched again and again as cameras panned over the fields where he once walked, the buildings where he once ate, slept and studied.

He turned to me, his face an unfamiliar shade of pale.

Easygoing, even-tempered, Jonathan has been my rock since we started dating eight years ago. His quiet makes way for my loud.

His pragmatism grabs hold of my ankles and keeps me from flying too high.

But last week, Jonathan showed me how the very private nature of grief can indeed go public.

His heart broke for the lives lost, yes, but also for the startling realization that a piece of his latter childhood had been tainted.

While Sept. 11 shook us all as Americans, a shooter at Virginia Tech shook Jonathan as a Southerner, a Virginian and a member of the Hokie nation.

And seeing my rock shatter, I understood.

I pawed through my closet and pulled out my Tech-wear, most of it presents from my in-laws over the years.
I wore it proudly last week, because for Jonathan, I could show a little Hokie support. And when I found the Virginia Tech infant hat – bought the Christmas before Jillian was born for a Hokie daddy with a baby on the way – I let myself cry a little too.

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