IT IS always agony when a parent buries a son or daughter. It is always heartbreaking when a child suddenly loses his mother or father. The death of a man before his time is always a great sorrow.
Michael Kennedy's mother, children, and many relatives, in grief over his shocking death last week, are entitled to our sympathy and understanding. Regardless of their fame. Regardless of their fortune. Regardless of the esteem or disesteem in which we hold them. They are our fellow citizens, and they are suffering; that should be enough.
When Michael Kennedy died in a skiing accident on New Year's Eve, his death generated headlines nationwide.
And what of Steven Gajda, and the grief his family has known since New Year's Eve? Gajda was a cop with the Los Angeles Police Department, just 29 years old. He tried to subdue an out-of-control carouser; took a bullet in the head for his troubles. He died a day later. It was his wife's birthday.
And what of the stunned and anguished parents of Lorraine Hanne, a pretty 18-year-old at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania who partied so much on New Year's Eve that she drank herself into a fatal stupor? Her funeral took place Monday at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeport, Pa.
It has been written that death is the ultimate democracy, making all of us finally equal. But as our reaction to the death of Michael Kennedy makes clear, that truism isn't quite true. Some people's deaths are more equal than others.
From the moment the awful news broke in Aspen, the newspapers and television stations were obsessive in their coverage. Platoons of reporters, photographers, and editors turned Kennedy's skiing tragedy and his family's mourning into a Major Event. For days it was on the front page and the evening news; editorials commented on it; talk shows scrambled for guests who could comment on it some more.
But there were no editorials about Alice Walsh. No talk shows discussed the death of Steven Gajda. No reporters flew in for Lorraine Hanne's funeral. No one, their friends excepted, gave a moment's thought to the heartbreak of their families. No one even knew their names.
Granted: It is newsworthy (and especially chilling) when untimely death strikes the Kennedys. Granted: Michael Kennedy had been in the news himself, for fairly sordid reasons, just last summer. But that hardly excuses the panting fixation with his death and funeral that was on display this past week. It doesn't justify behaving as if the freak accident that killed him was more horrible than the freak accident that killed anyone else that day.
He wasn't, after all, a senator or a governor or a president; he wasn't a great captain of business; he wasn't a military commander or a brilliant author or a religious leader. He wasn't even famous for being famous, as modern celebrities often are. He was just a guy, like so many other guys. Not the best guy in the world, not the worst. In his too-short life, he did some good things and he did some bad things. Is there any of us of whom the same couldn't be said?
We should choke up when anyone dies a sudden and terrible death, not only when someone named Kennedy does. Not realistic? Maybe not. But are the media going to repeat this orgy of hype and publicity every time a descendant of Rose and Joseph Kennedy dies? Rather than whip up a false frenzy of emotion and bathos at the deaths of a few, journalists ought to seek out the genuine emotion and drama in the passing of the many others who die in circumstances no less arresting.
The murder of Los Angeles police officer Steven Gajda on Jan. 1 drew virtually no national coverage.
Was there no story, for example, in the death of Ryan Mone, a 17-year-old honors student from Martha's Vineyard who died — just a few hours after Kennedy — when the car he was driving veered off the road and crashed into a tree? If it is desolating when parents bury their children, how much more so must it be when, as in Ryan's case, even grandparents weep in mourning.
Was there no story in the New Year's Eve murder of Adam Soupys, an 11th-grader in Moorestown, Pa.? It was the first killing that town has seen in more than 20 years; a passerby found Adam's beaten body on Jan. 1. He had been good at math — and great at skateboarding.
Was there no story in the grisly accident that killed five young people in Newport Township, also in Pennsylvania, when they took their souped-up Jeep out for a drive? The vehicle skidded off an icy back road and plunged down a ravine. Jennifer Dragon, Richard Ammons, Stephen Nowak, William Fishburn III, and William Vincent Jr. drowned in the freezing black water. The youngest was 18; the oldest, 42. At a memorial service on Saturday, a single pink rose floated in the water. Newport will never forget this New Year's Eve. Will anyone beyond Newport ever know of it?
Death comes to everyone. Often it comes to the young, and often with no warning. It came to Michael Kennedy on Dec. 31. It also came to others, many of them younger than he. They weren't rich, and their fathers weren't famous, and cardinals didn't attend their wakes. But their blood flowed red, too. For all the frantic attention that was lavished on Kennedy's death, couldn't a little have been paid to theirs?
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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