I was heading to the park with my dog at the end of an emotionally exhausting day of writing - in between six million phone calls [and you know I never exaggerate]. My car radio was tuned to the AM talk-radio station I usually listen to at that time of day. I like the host. He's well spoken, with strong opinions, but a nice manner. As is typical of that kind of show, the host starts with a mini-monologue which sets the topic for discussion that incites or inspires the callers who act as the foils or clones for the host.
Monday, July 27, 2003, being the day we had all learned that Bob Hope had died, the host opened with a tribute to the legendary comic. As I'm sure you've all heard quite a lot about Mr. Hope in the past few days, I will just paraphrase what the host said. He alluded to the fact that Mr. Hope had had a long and illustrious show-biz career, spanning eight decades, and a marriage nearly as long, at 70 years. He then referenced the fact that Mr. Hope had known and interacted with all of the U.S. presidents in recent memory, had given unstintingly of himself to entertain the troops overseas, and delighted untold millions with his wit and style. It was a typical and glowing tribute. And then he delivered the bombshell, although I believe it was accidental. The host said that because of Hope's long life and accomplishments, we therefore have "NO NEED TO MOURN." I nearly drove off the road. My partner and I have spent 40 years trying to debunk the myth that it is somehow acceptable to replace normal emotional response to loss with intellectual bromides designed to minimize the natural feelings attached to death and other grief producing events. It seemed as if this well-meaning but misguided radio host, with a large audience, could undo all our good work in a matter of seconds. [Yes I know that's a slight exaggeration too, but it is how I felt as I listened.]
In the past year of these weekly columns, you have read more than once the fact that phrases like, "Don't feel bad, she lived a full life," even if they are true about the deceased, they are not true about the griever. The fact that Bob Hope had accomplished a great deal in his century on this planet, does not mean that those who loved him should not mourn - QUITE THE OPPOSITE, in fact. This would be bad enough if it ended there. But what followed really floored me. The host, with barely a pause for breath, told of having gone very recently to a Fleetwood Mac concert, and how SAD it made him. Sad because of the demise of a style of music that he believes is gone forever, replaced by atonal rap music to which he cannot relate. He mentioned his sadness several times, and never seemed to correlate the emotional non-sequitur between negating everyone's emotions about Bob Hope's death, and his own grief over the end of a musical era. So I just had to write this and get it off my chest. I don't know if I'll even bother sending a copy to him. Moreover, those of you in the media, please take note. He, with influence over many, in a matter of seconds delivered a message, however unwitting, to hundreds of thousands of people. Whether the message is accurate or not is moot. The fact that it impacts so many is the point. We beseech those of you who write or talk publicly about grief in your articles, columns, or aired pieces, to make sure you know what message you are sending and that it really is what you wish to transmit. Please contact us for input or clarification on these matters, we are glad to help. As that announcement in movie theatres says; THE AUDIENCE IS LISTENING.