Back to US Life HistoriesDeath and Dying

The media has often times helped to shape the way in which I think, especially when it comes to political issues. The way in which the media has portrayed different topics has helped me to form a negative or positive opinion about the issue. From as early as I can remember I have constantly been influenced by the media. I feel that the media has greatly influenced the way in which I perceive and react to death and dying.

The earliest memory that I have of death and the way in which I reacted to it must have been when I was six years old. I was watching the television at my friend's house while my mom and her mom were cooking dinner. On the television the news was on and the anchor was talking about a famous man who had died. I can't remember who the man was, but it was someone who had died of natural causes and he was not that old. He was just sick and then he died. I ran to my mother, almost in tears, asking why this man died and what was death. My mom told me that death is when you leave earth to go and live with God. I told her I did not want her to die ever, and it was at that point that she told me eventually everyone dies.

As I sat at the kitchen table, surrounded by my mom, my best friend and her mom, I can remember crying my eyes out, because I was so afraid that God was going to take these people away from me. I did not want anyone to die.

Now I understand that at six years old I was looking into the future a great deal, but you have to understand that at the tender age of six, finding out that your mommy is going to die one day is quite a shock. I still think about that day. All of those thoughts, realizations and worries occurred for the main reason that at six years old I was watching television news and the news people were talking about death.

For quite a while after I gained this knowledge about death, I can remember constantly making my parents promise they would not leave me, and always following my mother around to make sure that she was okay. I even had nightmares about being left alone. Even though I was so young, I can remember all of these events so clearly, because to me it was such a life changing experience. When I think back I can still see the wood floor and brown walls of the kitchen where I was sitting, as I cried about the future. It was like it happened yesterday, the memories are so clear. From that moment on I knew that I did not like any aspect or believe in death, especially when it is inflicted upon others prematurely.

My views and influences on death did not stop at that memory though. How could it, death is such a major part of our lives every single day. The next life-changing memory that I have of death and being influenced by the media, is when the space shuttle, the Challenger, exploded. I was in my third grade class. After being informed on what had happened, all of the students in my elementary school were brought into the gym. They had set up televisions for us to watch the newscasts. I can still see the huge read and orange fireball in the sky as it exploded after take-off. Then I can remember seeing on the news, the pictures of all of the people aboard the shuttle. They were all smiling and looked so happy. After the news people repeatedly said that everyone aboard the Challenger had died, all I could think about was whether or not they experienced any pain before they died. When I had seen television shows, and people dying on them they all look like they are experiencing so much pain. So because of the media I have always related death with pain.

I was so sad for days after the explosion. The television constantly showed spectators and family members crying and screaming. Follow-up newscasts showed interviews with the school teacher's students and co-workers. They were all so sad, and were crying. I can remember crying with them. I can also remember being mad. The reason I was mad was because the news was focusing on the school teacher who had died. I did not think that that was right. There was more than one person who had lost their life in the explosion. The country should mourn for all of them, not just one. I was sad for all, and I thought it was unfair to focus on just one person.

I was so overcome by this tragedy that I began to think that nothing was safe and that at any time death could sneak up on you. The news led me into the lives of the dead and allowed me to mourn them. After being able to see the way in which so many lives were affected by the deaths of these individuals, I realized that every life is precious, not just the lives of the who surrounded me, and nobody has the right to inflict that much on others. Being able to see and feel this loss, allowed me to never want anyone to die again, especially if it could be prevented.

Now it seems that every time I would turn on the news, there would be at least one news story on the death of someone. In the United States, it is uncommon if you do not hear about somebody dying, but I can still remember some newscast that stuck out from the rest and once again added a new thought to my perception of death. The next memory that I have that has added something to my thoughts about death occurred when I was in about eighth grade, which would make me about 13 years old. I was sitting in my living room, with my two younger sisters and we were watching the news. The lead story of the night was the story of an eight year old girl who was killed by a stray bullet as she was walking home from class. Her death was the result of a drive-by shooting. I was so sad, but more than that I was really angry. At this time, I can remember that there was a lot going on in the news. We were entering into the Gulf War, and for some reason I can remember that gang wars were becoming more and more prominent in the news. It just seemed as if all of these kids had absolutely no respect for life, especially the lives of other people. That little girl lost her life, because of a gun that was in the hands on a child. I can remember talking about the death in class and telling my teacher that if there were not guns in the world, things like this could not happen.

By seeing this newscast I began shaping thoughts and values on gun control and gun laws. Without guns the deaths would be fewer. I still believe that. I saw on television that a gun killed a little girl, and still continue to see the devastation that guns cause. I firmly believe that without them the murder rate in the United States would be much lower.

One of the most life-changing memories that I have of the media influencing how I feel occurred during the weeks before my tenth grade year started. I was getting ready to leave for field hockey camp. I was at my grandparent's house the night before I was supposed to leave and I was skimming through Newsday. As I was looking through the newspaper, I found an article about my home town, so of course I stopped to read it. As I began to read the article I realized that what I was reading about was the death of my friend. She had been staying in Connecticut for the summer with some friends so she had not been home all summer. It turns out that she was driving in a jeep and it lost control and flipped and she broke her neck and died instantly. I had been away, so I had not talked to any of my friends so this was the first I had heard about her death. The media was my informant. As I sat in the kitchen and cried, I once again prayed that she didn't feel any pain before she died. This was the first time that both the media and death had hit so close to home. I was angry, sad, confused and so much more. This was also one of the first times that I really saw the negative side to journalism. It was so close to home, that I finally realized that death is a very private thing and is not meant to be shared by the world. Her friend's and family did not want cameras and microphones in their faces. They wanted to mourn in private.

Throughout my life I have thought of the media as my view to the world and a way in which I could grieve with others. For the first time the media showed me just how private death really is, and that it is not something that can and should be shared with the world, no matter what cost to the victim's families.

Now since I was a little girl, my views and images of death have been greatly influenced by the media. It has been a gateway to that side of life. I can remember all of these images and so much more, but perhaps my latest change occurred when I was seventeen and visiting Spain for the first time. As I was sitting in Granada in my friend's hotel room, I saw the massive hole that was left just minutes after the Oklahoma City bombing. As I heard the numbers of those found dead rise and rise by the minutes, my only thought was whoever did this to these people needs to be tortured and sentenced to death the same way he sentenced 128 people to death when he decided to blow up that building. I can still see the images of all of those children being brought out of the wreckage. It was absolutely heart-wrenching. It was even worse because I was in a different country at the time, and all I wanted to do was to be with my family and make sure that they were all right. The images that the news showed me is something that I will never forget, nor will I forgive.

Timothy McVeigh was sentenced to death this past year, and I honestly could not agree more with the decision. Although my whole life I have been opposed to death of any sense, mainly because of the way in which the media has influenced me, the images that I saw that day on my television is something that will never leave my mind, nor the minds of all of the victims' families and the survivors. From what the media showed me, it helped to change my view of death, and to agree with the killing of Timothy McVeigh.

These are just some of the memories that I have of media influence, but I consider them to be the most powerful and influential in my life.

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