Covering loss and living through loss is very different.
I tell my son I love him much more often now.
As a dad I know it’s something I should have been doing all along. But, two years ago I was on the receiving end of something that I do not wish upon anyone – I lost my mother, grandmother and a nephew in a span of four months.
My mom had battled cancer twice, so I knew she was tough. She never complained, never asked for help and never, ever disclosed whether she felt good or bad. It just wasn’t her to do so.
Unknown to my sister and I, she was also diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Something she never told us kids, I’m guessing to protect us from the thought of losing her.
My grandmother passed away after battling Alzheimer’s, my nephew had a genetic disorder and congestive heart failure. He was only 34. My nephew passed way in May, my grandmother in June and my mother in August.
When I share my story, people usually have a hard time comprehending. Stories like that are made of fiction. But it’s true and I miss them everyday.
As a photojournalist I have covered my fair share of tragedy. It’s just part of the job. But I’m protected by the lens of the camera, the press badge I carry and my reporter’s notebook and pen. I never knew those who lost someone, personally. On the scene of a murder, homicide or bad accident, I’m there to record and report on history, and also to convey what I witnessed to readers. I had never truly felt great loss.
Covering a tragedy is never easy ... it sometimes makes you cringe.
While my nephew, grandmother and mother did not die tragically, it was still tough to process. I returned to Texas after my fourth trip to Chicago – the last being for the funeral of my mother – and upon returning to work, news came over the radio of a homicide in Highland Park.
For me, a very supportive wife and jumping back into work helped me cope with my loss. Others grieve and process loss in different ways.
This particular case involved a father turning a knife on his wife and son. I was on the scene pretty quickly. News was spreading fast that the wife and father were dead. Officers were scurrying in and out of the home. Emotional neighbors and bystanders were talking to other neighbors and detectives. It was chaotic for a part of Dallas that is very affluent and usually pretty quiet.
I spent about an hour, observing and taking photos of what I thought would convey the scene. Getting photos of the detectives was key, but it was not until later I realized I had captured a Highland Park officer either getting emotional or wiping sweat from his brow. Either way I didn’t ask him, nor did I care to find out. I thought it best conveyed the scene and emotions of the day.
After getting back to the office and editing what I had, my cell phone rang. It was my son, Micah. After a brief chat and a laugh or two we ended the conversation, but not before I told him I loved him.
Chris McGathey is a reporter for the Rockwall County Herald-Banner and Royse City Herald-Banner. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.