There’s certainly this misconception that we must treat bereaved family members with a sense of fragility, as if any mere mention of their departed loved one’s name can trigger a waterfall of tears and an emotional breakdown. People dare not mention the loss of a loved one for fear that tears will ensue and worse, that it places an emotional burden on the friend, colleague or acquaintance who asks.
No one wants to bear that burden. No one wants to consul others. They want to go on with their lives, still in tact and everyone still accounted for.
There’s a fear of the reaction and how those who have lost loved ones will handle the pressure of questioning eyes.
And so we avoid those who have lost. We tiptoe around the real questions and the real emotions. It’s the gloomy grey cloud looming over every interaction after a loved one passes away.
I know because I’ve been there. My sister passed away when I was 16.
Even without hearing them, you know there are muffled questions between friends and teachers and coworkers about how to address the situation—about how best to handle you.
Having the dual roles of having lost a loved one and also being a journalist, when looking into the situation surrounding Bode Miller’s tears during his interview with Christin Cooper, I look at it from two different perspectives. I look at it from the perspective of someone who has lost (though I have certainly never been on the type of stage Miller has and had so many prying eyes cast my way) and I also see it from the perspective of a journalist who knew what the true story of that bronze medal was.
After examining my viewpoint from both perspectives, I stand by Cooper. But beyond that, I stand by it because I have lost. I stand by it because I know what it’s like to be treated like a delicate flower. And I also know that whether Miller was questioned about his emotions or not, it doesn’t change what he was feeling. It has been revealed that Miller was crying before the interview began and he was also the first to bring up his brother during the interview. His brother was on his mind. There is no way he could have been thinking about anything else.
Big moments in one’s life after losing a loved one are always bittersweet. You feel the joy of the accomplishment or milestone, but you also feel the longing for the person with whom you wish you could share it. Everyone you know and love could be there by your side, but you only notice the one person who is not. Miller was thinking about his brother. Cooper knew and she wasn’t in the wrong for having asked about it.
Sure, everyone handles loss differently. Some don’t want to talk about it. Others do. And really, talking about it helps. Pretending that it didn’t happen and that’s it’s not a factor in life, does not. Was Cooper supposed to pretend that she didn’t hear Miller mention his brother? Was she supposed to be like so many others when confronting a bereaved family member? If we don’t talk about it, it’s not there, right? Why are we so afraid to acknowledge loss?
She was a good journalist in that moment, particularly with the last question. She took note of Miller’s actions in the moments leading up to his run. It was there for everyone to see and she was observant. These situations, certainly require sensitivity. You have to take emotions into account, but you can’t necessarily avoid the subject. I’ll agree that the questioning was too harsh and maybe she could have done without one or two of them, taking cue from Miller’s struggle to answer, but it doesn’t change anything, really.
I’m not inside Miller’s head, so I can’t know for sure, but I don’t think he was crying because he was being asked to talk about his brother. He was crying because he missed him. He was crying because it was painful. But even he couldn’t blame Cooper for the questions. In that moment, they were the right questions to ask.
Maybe that medal was for Bode Miller alone. Maybe his brother, Chelone, wasn’t a factor in it at all. I don’t know because I’m not in Miller’s mind. But I think Miller needed it. Not just for his career, but because he had been through more than he should have been. He needed something good to come his way. And he got it, but his brother was part of that story. So Cooper inquired.
Maybe it was for ratings. Maybe NBC was preying on Miller’s story. Or maybe, it was a journalist who saw a human being and not an athlete. Maybe it was a journalist that saw a man who had overcome one of the most challenging circumstances in his life, something that anyone can take a positive lesson out of, especially the ones at home who know loss all too well and need inspiration.
I don’t know. I wasn’t any of the parties involved in this story. But, like them, I have been in similar circumstances. I’ve had people avoid asking questions about my sister. I’ve had to ask questions about heartbreaking circumstances, as all journalists have.
And I guess, what I hope could come out of this is that we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about the real things. Sports mask a lot. We love sports, and why? Because they’re a diversion from the difficult aspects of life. But deep down, there’s a lot more to sports than standings and medals. Sports are about people and the stories behind those people.
Cooper was unveiling the story of one person. And that person was sad. He was sad because he lost a brother. But do we forget that brother just because he passed away? No. Then we can’t stop asking questions or that’s the risk we take.