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Peering through my camera lens, listening to the unique sounds of a bagpipe, I bit my lip trying to hold back tears while David Ford's casket was being lowered into the ground Friday afternoon. These emotions came as a surprise to me.
Why were my eyes welling up with tears? I didn't know Ford or his family. I was there simply to cover the story, but I found myself grieving. I was grieving for Ford and, even more so, for his children.
My eyes were drawn to his youngest son who was desperately trying to hold back his tears but not succeeding. He was crying in such an honest, innocent way. I can't describe it. I had never seen this child before but I felt such an urge to run to his side, hug him, console him, tell him how sorry I was that he was having to deal with such an unbelievable tragedy at such a young age. My stomach turned with each of his sobs and my lip quivered as I tried to stop the tears from flowing. As the sounds of the casket being lowered further and further into the ground seemed to become deafening, I quickly forgot that I was there to cover the story. I stood there, like everyone else, and mourned the loss of Lebanon Police Officer David Ford.
Like I said, I didn't know Ford. I ran into him a time or two, and he always seemed like a pleasant person. But I never had the opportunity to get to know him. Those that did know him describe him as a fun-loving jokester, a good officer and the life of the party. His brother, Darrell, spoke specifically about the love Ford had for his children. Ford had four children and three stepchildren. According to Darrell, he became a cop for them.
"He was out there because he wanted you to be safe," Darrell said at Ford's funeral Friday.
In fact, the main reason Ford was so determined to be a police officer was centered around an incident involving his son, Austin, who was hit and nearly killed by a drunk driver while riding his bicycle in a church parking lot in February of 2000.
I didn't realize it at the time, but it was Austin who I watched through my camera lens Friday. The reason Ford became a police officer was sitting right in front of me, tears streaming down his precious face, mourning the loss of his dad. People I have spoken to say Austin idolized his father. Since Friday, I've not been able to get the vision of Austin out of my head. His cheeks red from all of his tears and his eyes so tired from crying. As I write this, I can feel my body become tense at the thought of Austin and the rest of Ford's children. How do they move on from this? How do they cope with such an unspeakable tragedy? I can do nothing but pray for them, and I so wish I could do more.
As I left the graveyard Friday afternoon, I finally let my guard down and my emotions came spilling out. I cried the entire way home. As I drove down Campbellsville Highway, I saw the faces of Ford's children in my mind. I thought about how hard the coming days, weeks, months and even years will be for them. Their lives have been forever changed and my soul aches for them. I wish I could make it better. I wish I could take their hurt away. But, I can't. No one can. Time will eventually heal their broken hearts, but nothing will ever replace their father. As their uncle Darrell said Friday, all they have left is memories.
And while Ford's funeral was probably one of the hardest assignments I've ever had to cover, it taught me something. Just because I'm a journalist doesn't mean I can't feel things while getting "the story." It's not wrong to feel those things. It's okay to let your emotions show. After all, journalists are human. We aren't coldhearted people that are just searching for that one front-page photo of a person at his or her lowest moment. We aren't the vultures that hover around tragedies. We are here to tell a story, yes, but that doesn't mean we don't sympathize with those people we see through our camera's viewfinder.
We do. Believe me. We do.