Victoria Noe

Award-winning Author, Speaker, Activist

When Your Friend's Death is in the Headlines

[caption id="attachment_1991" align="alignleft" width="294"]Cmdr. Paul Bauer Cmdr. Paul Bauer[/caption]

I didn’t listen to the radio in the car as I drove back to Chicago from St. Louis yesterday, so it wasn’t until I turned on the TV that I saw the breaking news. A Chicago police commander had been shot to death downtown, in the state office building. There was something about a suspicious person, a robbery attempt, but no name given.

My husband was preparing for his organization’s annual meeting that evening when he texted, asking if I was home. When I replied that I was, he called to tell me that the officer was the commander he’s worked with for years, Paul Bauer. What had not been the best of days became even worse, because he was also a friend.

I didn’t know him as well as my husband and daughter did, working on events together and chatting on the street. In an age where the news about police brutality fills the news cycle, Commander Bauer was an exception. He was one of the good guys.

Throughout the evening I watched the widening circles of his influence react to the news. The hundreds of officers - Chicago Police, Illinois State Police, ATF, etc. - who escorted his body from the hospital to the medical examiner’s office. The firefighters and civilians who stood at attention as the ambulance drove by. The distraught community members who worked with him to make their neighborhoods safer. Even the TV reporter who covered police headquarters described her personal grief over the loss of a man she considered a friend.       

But then there are those whose connection was entirely personal: his wife and 13 year old daughter. Heidi Stevens is one of my favorite Chicago Tribune writers. Her daughter and Bauer's have been friends since preschool. She honored that connection and the man who was a personal hero to her today.

I watched a little of the coverage on TV. And though the outpouring of respect and love that filled most of the stories was impressive, I did not want my last memories of Commander Bauer to be detailed descriptions of his death.

That’s the challenge for the friends he left behind. The 24-hour news cycle, the endless stories on the internet, may be good for ratings but are hell on people who are grieving. I don’t know about you, but there are damn few details about a friend’s death that I’m eager to learn. And I sure as hell don’t want to be surrounded by descriptions of their last minutes.

Everyone grieves differently, but we all deserve to grieve in private, even if our friends were in the public eye. Maybe everyone could stop being obsessed with information long enough to show respect not just for the dead, but the family and friends left behind. They need our support, our hugs, our understanding. Concentrate on them. And remember the ones who died - not by how they died, but how they lived.