Exploitation of personal loss is cruel and unjust

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Firefighters douse Van Hooser’s home in water as it is consumed in flames. Courtesy of Kim Van Hooser

A lot of things change when your house burns down. The grief hits all at once, yes; but also in succeeding waves. Aftershocks of realization are as painful as the first wave as remnants of our loved and lost ones disappear. It’s not the financial loss that hurts. It’s the loss of pictures and second grade homework and childhood trophies.
A home that housed Christmas celebrations, memorials, and birthdays is now unsafe to venture into—caution tape bars the beams where a door used to be. Ties to sentimentalities are strengthened when ashes are all that’s left of them. Shopping isn’t nearly as fun when it’s simply to have enough clothes to last a week.
The loss of these things, however, pale in comparison to the loss of our beloved mutt, Killey, who left my mother’s side in the fire and never found her way out. We joke that if this hadn’t taken her, nothing would have, because she was so strongwilled and energetic, so bossy and loyal. She lost an eye to a porcupine and survived it, she was sprayed by skunks seven times and still chased black and white tails. Killey even licked a poisonous toad (only once), and has weathered winters in Michigan and summers in Texas, faithful to her family.
I picked up the phone Wednesday, Oct. 25 to take a call from my stepdad. He is currently working for the state dept. in Israel, and feels much of the same helplessness I feel in being so far away from my family home in Michigan. His voice, normally so strong and logical, shook as he asked if I heard. “Heard about the house?” I asked. He paused, then: “Killey didn’t make it.” There wasn’t much to say after that.
He told me to go on Facebook, and we watched our house burning down on the local news’ Facebook Live. I joined as the smoke billowed out from the roof and firefighters continued to submerge our house in gushes of water. The windows were all broken through, and the house was dark, too dark, for 3 o’clock on an October afternoon.
Outrage sparked inside of me as the shaky video broadcasted our misfortune to 4.4 thousand viewers. The Petoskey News-Review received higher views from that live video than any other posts in the last month.
As a journalist, I get it. If it bleeds, it leads, right? But there is a difference between sharing news and exploiting a family for views. They stood on our property, excitedly following firefighters and smoke, watching the views and the likes and the heartfelt condolences pour in. The News-Review made me watch my mother’s house burn down, my dog still inside.
I watched, angry and devastated, and at the same time hoping against hope that I’d see the tide turn in our favor, my scruffed-up pup run out miraculously alive, and the smoke clear to reveal a home that still stands strong.
To the Petoskey News-Review: You invaded my family’s home and high jacked my heart, and no amount of views is worth that.
You could have asked my mother, standing stricken on the front lawn, for permission to reveal our tragedy to the world. You could have taken a photo or two, and concealed our address instead of posting it shamelessly.
My family is still reeling, and we’ll be rebuilding our lives for months to come after this. After years of living on couches in unsafe trailer homes, this was supposed to be my adopted brothers’ final home. Now they must move again, with your record of its demolishment as a forever reference to another failed home.
Think before you stream, Petoskey News-Review, about the hearts you twist when you choose to color my tragedy on a shaky phone screen.

Author: Tori Van Hooser

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