Monday, May 2, 2011

A Non-9/11 Widow's Thoughts on Bin Laden's Death

As someone who has read a lot about grief, written a lot about grief, and who knows loss in the most intimate and personal sense, I have to say that I am impressed with the immediate reaction to Osama bin Laden's death at the hands of our nation's military best. On all levels -- government, civilian, and media -- the tone has been appropriately proud and celebratory without being crass or boastful (at least in my opinion). Most impressive to me -- one who is primed to pay special attention to such things -- is the manner in which the president and media have treated the families of those who were killed by bin Laden's actions (though coverage has focused primarily on those who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks, the largest and most devastating of bin Laden's terrorist actions against U.S. armed forces and civilians).

During President Obama's remarks to the country informing us all of what had transpired, I noticed he did more than just make fleeting reference to the survivors who lost loved ones to bin Laden's actions. He talked about the horrors we witnessed on that terrible September morning nearly a decade ago, then went on to say,

"And yet we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child's embrace. Nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts."

Watching the president of the United States say that was a profound moment to me. To me, it was a recognition of the depths of the pain that grief brings, the severity of it, and how very life-altering it is. I felt like this acknowledgment will help us all remember the value of human life, while somehow reminding us that taking a life was the right thing to do in this situation and something that we could even celebrate, to an extent. The tone is much more that justice and accountability -- and not revenge -- have been attained.

I've also been impressed with the media's coverage to the issue of how surviving family members feel. There have been some oversimplifications on by-lines running the bottom of the screen ("9/11 widows happy with killing"), but the news outlets are reaching out and asking survivors, and generally doing a good job of showing full and nuanced reactions. Grief is a complicated thing; to simply say all 9/11 widows are "happy" is a gross oversimplification and probably not true. However, most networks and stories have been presenting a fuller picture. Many survivors interviewed have indicated that the news doesn't make them "happy" because it doesn't give back what they (and the world) lost, but they are relieved and do feel somewhat better that the United States responded to the evil mastermind that plotted, orchestrated, and financed those thousands of deaths. I don't have anyone to blame for Brian's death, so I can't relate to 9/11 victims' surviving family members on that level, but I do know what living with grief is like and I can certainly empathize with them and appreciate the complexity of what they are likely feeling today. In any event, I am glad this issue is getting some exposure and has been handled appropriately (at least from what I have seen so far) by the media.

I hope that, as time goes on, the American people -- including media and politicians, who are first and foremost a part of "the American people" -- keep the focus where it should be and that this does not become a political issue. I hope that everyone, regardless of where they are on the spectrum, can recognize the magnitude of this accomplishment and, also, the reality of those who have lost loved ones and that this does nothing to fill the empty chair at the dinner table or to allow fathers to walk their daughters down the aisle someday. It is my belief, though, that bin Laden's death will mean that there will be fewer Americans thrust into that situation prematurely as a result of terrorist acts. For that, we should celebrate and be thankful.

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