Thursday, February 16, 2017

Valentine’s Day – "what do you think of?"

I’ve asked questions as a reporter that I didn’t realize would trigger emotions. It’s happened to me too. When my friend found out that I was no longer in a relationship, she asked what I had thought about with Valentines.

Maybe the timing of what had been weighing on my mind had caused such an honest response. Or maybe it was the way she phrased that question – “what do you think of?”

The words hit me like a tidal wave. “What do you think of?” I knew what my friend meant by asking, but she did not suspect that I would answer her the way I did.

“I think of how it was the last mother-daughter date I had three years ago. I treated her to a ham and cheese sandwich with tomato. It was the last time I made her a promise. She passed away two weeks later,” I recalled to my friend. “I think about the story I reported on about two siblings that were killed by a drunk driver that night two years ago. They traveled home with their family from a band competition they participated in. I think of how nothing would be the same again for them after first-responders were dispatched at 6:55 p.m. Saturday. I remember that it snowed that day, but the police said the inclement weather was not a factor in the crash. I think of how I long for the days when Valentine’s Day meant that I could eat more chocolate than I normally did in one day.”

When I talked to one of my fellow firefighters about it, he told me about similar experiences. He said he can remember specific details from incidents that occurred years ago, but he can’t remember something more recent and less significant.

“It still amazes me the details I remember from calls like that, but I can’t remember what I ate for lunch,” the firefighter said. “Those little details are what keep us going. Stay strong, Ginger.”

Journalists have those same experiences, but we can’t remember if we even ate lunch that day. Some people may think that reporters are too busy to express emotions because we are on to the next story. Well sometimes that’s true, and other times we are dealing with our emotions in our own way.

One of my mentoring editors had supported me after the loss of my mom in 2014. He checked on me every time I had to write an emotional story, especially death-related stories. A year later he died of cancer. I found myself at an all-time low. If it wasn’t for the support of family, friends, co-workers and my faith in God, I don’t know how I would have gotten through it. I didn’t think I could ever truly be happy again, but I have been.

But being a journalist made the grieving process tough. I wrote a story to honor the memories of the two siblings – Miles and Charlotte Hannagan from the Downingtown area – who were killed by a drunk driver. I interviewed their teachers and friends. My deadline fell on the one-year anniversary of my mother passing. That was the hardest thing I had to do as a reporter. But I didn’t think as much about my loss, as I thought about their parents. Knowing how difficult it was for me to lose a loved one, I wanted to put my heart into every story I had to do about someone else’s loss. 

Photo by Ginger Rae Dunbar - Paul and Maggie Hannagan hold a photograph of their children, Charlotte and Miles, who were killed by a drunk driver on Valentine's Day in 2015 in the Downingtown area. 
Before I knew how much emotional pain a loved one’s death could bring, I met the Iwaniec family during a DUI victim impact speech held for DUI offenders. Trooper Kenton Iwaniec was killed by a drunk driver in 2008.
“It is hard to comprehend how much emotional pain a person can stand,” The Iwaniec family stated on their website in honor of Trooper Iwaniec. “Just when we think we couldn’t possibly miss him any more, a new day comes and the pain created from the loss of Kenton is greater than the day before.”

Photo by Ginger Rae Dunbar - Ken and Debby Iwaniec hold a picture of their son, Trooper Kenton Iwaniec. He was killed by a drunk driver in 2008 in Chester County. 

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