Telling the long story of grief

Two days into journalism school and I am reminded why this whole endeavour matters. There are due dates, schedules, new faces and information overload. But standing above it all is the importance of empathy, finding the human stories to tell and to keep telling them long after the sirens have gone silent…

As our instructor played a clip of an NPR reporter’s impactful radio story from the immediate aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake, it brought to mind an equally powerful albeit less immediate one from the long aftermath of the Japanese tsunami. A feature piece written by Jennifer Percy for the New York Times Magazine, it chronicles the lives of those left behind when their loved ones were swept into the sea more than five years ago.

This story was quite a contrast to the one told by the NPR reporter- you did not hear the utter desperation, the wails, the grief and loss hitting you like a freight train. This grief is more like a shadow lays itself over your chest, allowing you to go about your daily tasks yet is always there reminding you of its presence. A grief that is not meaty, not physically painful, but very much alive and carefully tended to by it’s owners. There is Hiromi, who each Sunday lovingly prepares her daughter Emi’s favourite meals and tosses them into the sea. Emi disappeared with the tsunami at age 26. Or Yasuo, who dons a diving suit and submerges himself in the ocean in search of his wife Yuko. The ocean is the place where he feels closest to her.

I didn’t think much of this piece when I read it. It didn’t immediately move me to tears as some more immediate tragedies do. But later, and several times, it tugged at my memory the way small swells gently lap at the shore. A beautiful story, an important story to tell years after the newsworthy disaster has subsided. These stories are few and far between, but a compelling reminder that grief does not end when it ceases to be front page news.

“I have no choice but to keep looking”-New York Times Magazine

Photo Credit: Asako Narahashi

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