Carroll: Memorializing our grief
A couple of weeks ago, a reporter told me of a suicide in Pitkin County and asked whether the paper should cover it.
My stock response to these types of questions is that we leave stories about suicides alone or give them a simple blurb, unless there’s a compelling reason to launch into a fuller report about them. “Compelling” is a wholly subjective term, of course, but our general rule is that completed suicides become news stories when they involve public figures or the death was or became a public event (such was the case with Jeff Walker’s disappearance at Aspen Highlands last year).
It’s our responsibility to be careful about not glorifying suicides or the people who committed them. And it’s our responsibility to respect the relatives and close friends and grant them privacy in such a painful time as well.
Indeed, there are a number of suicides that go unreported by the press, just as there already have been two in Pitkin County this year that didn’t get any ink.
Then our longtime arts and entertainment editor, Stewart Oksenhorn, chose to take his life two Sundays ago. Initially, none of us could bear the thought of reporting or writing about the suicide of one of our own.
This unspeakable tragedy was something we could not plan for, but here we were, in the throes of misery with a job to do.
While this was unchartered territory, it actually felt like the natural thing to do — printing all of those letters, columns and stories that were all things Stewart.
Did all of this ink about Stewart, published by the Times, make us feel better? For me, I wish I could say the answer was “yes,” but it wasn’t.
“If Stewart were only alive.” That was all I could think about for the better portion of last week.
Then I spent some time reading our Friday arts and entertainment section, beautifully orchestrated by editor Jeanne McGovern. Stewart was vital to that section’s success on a weekly basis, but this one was dedicated to him. And then I went over some of the contributing thoughts that were printed earlier in the week about Stewart.
The outpouring of love-filled words for Stewart was beyond moving. I was even more moved by the readers who reached out to thank us — they meant more than any Facebook “like,” tweet or Google analytic data could ever attempt to measure.
For all of last week we wondered if Stewy realized how loved he was; I want to believe he did.
After reading all of the commentary from last week, I knew it was not only meant to honor our friend — it was meant to help his family, loved ones, this newspaper and the Aspen community grieve and mourn the loss of a true original.
No doubt there are other friends, neighbors and locals who have died and are thought of as unique and deserving of the coverage that Stewart received; but we simply don’t have the staff to pour this kind of coverage into each death. That being said, we felt strongly that part of our grieving and healing process would be to pay tribute to our dear friend and colleague — whose intelligent and entertaining coverage of the community’s arts and entertainment scene endured for more than two decades — in this way.
At the end, we are left alone with our own thoughts. But at the very least, we all mourned the loss of Stewart together by either expressing ourselves or reading the thoughts of others. While the grief might never end, we’ll always have those printed words to help us cope.
Rick Carroll is the editor of The Aspen Times. He takes comments, complaints, questions and news tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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