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Lay Off Jackie Siegel: There's No "Right" Way To Mourn A Dead Child

Photo: U. Eisenlohr / Shutterstock
Lay OFF Jackie Siegel: There's No "Right" Way To Mourn A Dead Child

We've all seen them before: the TV legal dramas where one of the primary reasons that a particular person falls under suspicion by law enforcement is because of the way she (and it's almost always a she) behaves during the immediate aftermath of the crime.

Maybe the suspect talks too animatedly when discussing her loss, or maybe she fails to cry, or cries too much, which can seem artificial. And perhaps most judge-y of all, law enforcement and the media often bring their own opinions to the table when deciding what sort of clothing a woman-in-mourning should be wearing. If she varies from their script, she also falls under their suspicion.

The most recent highest profile real-life case of this media judgment is that of Jackie Siegel, the ultra-wealthy, reality show icon who lost her 18-year-old daughter Victoria two weeks ago to acute methadone and sertraline toxicity.

Victoria Siegel apparently struggled with addiction for some time, like tens of thousands of other Americans this year. Her addiction took her from her loving family far too soon.

I likely have very little in common with the uber-rich, jet-setting Jackie Siegel, who has been nicknamed "the Queen of Versailles" in the past — referring to her desire to build an ever-larger and more opulent house for her family.

However, despite our obvious differences, Jackie Siegel and I now share the worst and most primal bond of all: we are both mothers who have lost our 18-year-old children to drug overdose.

While I can't stand cruel online commentary in any context, I'm frankly appalled by the way the media ripped Jackie Siegel to shreds on the very day she buried her beloved daughter. Usually, no matter how famous a parent might be, the press gives the family some space to grieve without excessive, close-up funeral shots.

With other celebrity funerals, photographers are kept at a distance from the church or synagogue, and any photos that emerge from the sad event are fuzzy, and maintain some modicum of dignity for the family.

But that's not a respect that Jackie Siegel and her family got. Their child's funeral was obviously swarmed with paparazzi who took thousands of shots to get the most unflattering ones to use in their publications.

And then, in case the photos themselves didn't reflect the tabloids' chosen narrative, reporters, editors and bloggers used headlines and captions to negatively portray this mother of a newly dead teenager.

I honestly have no idea what Jackie Siegel might've done to piss off tabloid editors in NYC and L.A., but it's hard not to believe that the reporters and editors covering the Victoria Siegel funeral didn't have some kind of mean-as-hell agenda when they dispatched their reporters to the funeral scene.

And then, once they had photos, these tabloids published splashy stories with headlines like, "What the Queen of Versailles Did at Her Daughter's Funeral May Disgust You."

"Disgust" us? That's a seriously vicious headline, especially since we're talking about a woman at her own child's funeral.

I don't know about you, but after reading that headline and how it used such strong language — letting me know that whatever Mrs. Siegel did at her child's funeral might disgust me — I figured she engaged in interpretive pole dancing during the eulogy, or perhaps she'd started snogging one of the pallbearers. You know, disgusting stuff.

But it turns out that Mrs. Siegel didn't do anything disgusting at all.

For starters, the media deemed the black lace dress and hat that Mrs. Siegel wore to the funeral to be nothing short of a Fredericks of Hollywood negligee and furry kitten heel slippers. Mrs. Siegel actually wore a very tasteful black lace sheath dress to her daughter's funeral, complete with matching hat.

It was the kind of outfit, that, if many newly bereaved mothers could afford to wear to their own child's funeral, they would. As for me, I was 7 months pregnant when my son died, so none of my clothes fit anyway, and I honestly didn't care what I looked like at the memorial service. 

But thank goodness for the fairy godmothers/sisters/aunties and friends in my life who hauled me out of my darkened bedroom on the morning of the service, and put me into a pretty dress and shoes they acquired for me. They brushed my hair, and gave me a little mascara and a swipe of lipstick. They knew I wouldn't care then how I looked, but that later, I'd want to know I looked OK.

As for Jackie Siegel, I can only hope that she has her own tribe of women who got her into that black dress that morning, made sure her shoes matched, and put some lipstick on her. If so, they did a good job.

Mrs. Siegel looked tasteful and pretty, and how anyone claims otherwise is simply bizarre to me.

Next up on the list of supposedly "disgusting" behaviors by Mrs. Siegel at her daughter’s funeral is that, at one point outside the church, she was seen drinking from a plastic cup.

Now, y'all can choose to believe (for whatever reason I can't fathom) that there's something "disgusting" about needing to stay hydrated in the Florida heat when you already feel like you may pass out from grief. However, as someone who has stood for long stretches in a receiving line at a funeral, my guess is the more reasonable one.

Mrs. Siegel likely felt weak and shaky on her feet, and one of her friends or family members asked if they could bring her a cup of water. She said yes.

The cup was likely rustled up from the church kitchen (given that it was apparently a flashy patterned cup with pink and zebra stripes), and Mrs. Siegel gratefully downed the water, unaware that she'd just acquired yet another notch on the paparazzi's "disgusting" belt.

Another behavior by Mrs. Siegel that the tabloids twisted in particularly ugly ways is publishing the very few photos (of thousands taken that day, I'm sure) in which she was seen sporting the slightly confused smile that those of us who have made it through our childrens' funerals also sported, on our own most awful days.

I cried my way through most of my son's funeral but on that day, when someone would approach me with a hug or offer me a loving or sweet story about my son, I certainly smiled at least a little bit.

The difference is that no one snapped a photo at exactly that moment and then ran it in a major online tabloid as evidence that I'd yukked it up all the way through my son's memorial service.

Last on the list of supposedly "disgusting" things Jackie Siegel did at her child's funeral was snap photos of her daughter's casket being carried by pallbearers. This behavior, according the tabloids, is the creme de la creme of tacky and inappropriate behavior by this grieving mother.

I'd like to point out the irony of people behind pictures of Mrs. Siegel taking photos at her daughter's funeral. Those people were, themselves, camped out in every possible direction to violate this family's privacy, and taking as many photos as possible to sell to the tabloids.

These photos the paparazzi took included numerous shots of Victoria Siegel's casket, just like the photos Mrs. Siegel took with her own private camera for her family's own private remembrance of this terrible, yet momentous, day.

I'd argue that while the Siegel family had every right and reason to snap photos that day to remember their daughter's memorial service, the paparazzi camped out to get the money shot of Mrs. Siegel taking her OWN photos. They had no right or reason to invade the family’s privacy in that way.

For the record, on my own cell phone I have two very private pictures I look at at least once or twice a week. The first photo is of the empty church where my son's memorial service was held, but before any other mourners had arrived. The second photo is of my son's grave site after I brought daffodils to lay on the headstone last spring.

So yes, I myself have taken at least two photos of my son's sacred spaces. I took them with my own camera. If we had a traditional funeral with a casket and pallbearers, I very likely would've taken that photo, too, so I could remember.

So, how do I rate on the disgusting-meter compared to, say, Jackie Siegel?

It's become trendy to say that "everyone grieves differently," but as the Jackie Siegel media coverage demonstrates, here in the United States there's still really only one model for how we celebrate the life of a dead loved one.

Following the cruel and widespread criticism of Jackie Siegel's behavior at her daughter Victoria's funeral, a family spokesman issued this statement through Us Weekly:

"People deal with grief differently. Mrs. Siegel is grieving, as we all are ... There is no authoritative manual that tells us how to grieve. The entire family has been sleeping together in the large family room of the house since this horrible tragedy happened. They are talking together, crying together, and caring for and loving each other. The family has been through a terrible tragedy and has been hurt enough, and the way Mrs. Siegel is being portrayed by the media is just adding additional pain, not only to her but the entire family."

What Mrs. Siegel's experience shows is that if you do have the tragic experience of losing a child and you step outside the lines even a little bit, you may also be deemed as "disgusting." And really, that kind of criticism and judgment of a newly bereaved parent is the only part of this story that's disgusting at all.

Katie Allison Granju is the mother of five children ranging in age from toddler to teenager. Follow her on Twitter.