A variety of factors contributed to my decision to become a journalist: My love for writing. My love for news. My love for seeing my name in print.
When I chose this career, however, I was too young and too naive to understand just how much death I was signing up to witness.
As I quickly scan my mental archives, I still remember the heartbroken parents who lost their precious daughter to a drunk driver. I still remember the little boys — just 11 and 13 — whose Army recruiter mother never came home after the bombing of Oklahoma City’s federal building. I still remember the World War II veteran whose son followed his father into the military and devastated him by dying in Iraq.
Through all the car wrecks, fires and other senseless tragedies that I have covered, I have developed both an appreciation — and a disdain — for the kind of stories that involve interviewing a victim’s grieving loved ones. On the one hand, so many relatives desperately want and need an opportunity to tell their story. On the other hand, calling someone on the telephone or showing up at their front door at such a desperate time can feel like an intrusion.
After a quarter-century writing newspaper stories, I have developed this approach: Whenever possible, give the victim’s relatives an opportunity to comment. But never pressure them to do so. Make it their choice.
All of the above memories came flooding back as I read a heartwrenching interview in The Oklahoman, my hometown newspaper, of the widow of Oklahoma State’s late head women’s basketball coach:
STILLWATER — Shelley Budke remembers looking down at the huddle and seeing her husband celebrating with his players.
His team could be down 20 or 30 points — and that first season, it often was — but there he’d be back patting and high fiving. Everyone in his rag-tag band of seven players at Kansas City Kansas Community College would be smiling.
“Win the next five minutes,” he would say.
And when they did, they’d celebrate.
Since Kurt Budke died in a plane crash a year ago Saturday, Shelley has been living — and surviving — by those words.
“Win the next five minutes.”
A friend alerted me to this “really touching” story by posting a link on his Facebook page. It’s definitely an emotionally gripping piece told by a fantastic writer.
Let’s read more:
On a day when many near and far will remember the four who were killed while on an Oklahoma State women’s basketball recruiting trip, none will feel the loss quite like Shelley. She lost her husband. Her soul mate. Her best friend.
The days that have followed tested her like never before. Where Kurt was the orange-blazer-wearing, hand-shaking, back-slapping coach, Shelley preferred being in the background.
This extremely private and intensely religious woman became the face of the victims.
Earlier this week, for the first time since her husband’s death, she talked about the crash. She talked about the struggles. She talked about the support.
She talked about the man she loved.
She talked, too, about the woman she’s become.
Intensely religious woman.
Given the nature of GetReligion, you can probably guess why I chose to highlight those words. The question is: Will the rest of the story provide any insight into the role of the widow’s religious faith and beliefs in dealing with this tragedy?
Unfortunately, the answer is no.
Oh, there are a few vague glimpses, such as this one:
Shelley went to bed but woke up around 12:15. She couldn’t believe Kurt still hadn’t called or texted. But then, for reasons that she can only attribute to God’s mercy and grace, she fell back asleep.
And this one:
“He was not a guy that would get knocked down,” she said. “He didn’t pout. It was God, Kurt and my kids that I wanted to shine through in this.
“I wanted to make him proud.”
But overall, the holy ghost haunts this story.
It’s still a remarkable piece. I’d still recommend reading it (with a box of tissues handy). But I regret that after stepping inside the widow’s private world of grief, the newspaper fails to open such a crucial window into her soul.