A Hard Goodbye / by Justin Merriman

Jason Derkosh holds his wife, Elizabeth, at the funeral of their 2-year-old son, Maddox, at Saint Bernard Church in Mount Lebanon on Friday, November 9, 2012. Derkosh was killed Sunday after he fell from a wooden railing overlooking the painted dogs exhibit at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium and bled to death after being mauled by the dogs.

Note by photographer: As a photojournalist, I have to cover difficult events.  In my career, spanning over a decade, I’ve covered more than my share.  The world isn’t a perfect place and unfortunately there is great sadness, pain, and suffering.  Today was no exception. I found myself at the funeral of 2-year-old Maddox Derkosh who was killed Sunday at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium when he fell from his mother’s arms into the African Painted Dogs exhibit and was mauled to death. No one wants to cover these sad events.  It’s never easy to make photographs under such tragic circumstances, and often my camera feels so heavy I can barely pull it up to my eye.  However, knowing the importance of my presence and the camera in these situations helps me to make photographs that will bear witness, help people to understand, and to hopefully provoke a dialog that will prevent such events in the future. 
When I am assigned to cover funerals, I am always respectful.  I remain at a distance that doesn’t intrude on the family and still allows me to work in a discrete and considerate manner.  We can’t simply ignore difficult things, particularly events that happen in such a public manner.  While the photograph of Maddox’s mother and father embracing at such a tremendously difficult time in their lives is hard to look at, it helps everyone who is mourning with them to know how loved and cared for he was.  They do not mourn the loss of Maddox alone.  Pittsburgh, the country and the world mourns with them.  There are no borders for stories such as this one, it spans the globe and stretched across humanity.  We all feel their pain, including the members of the media who were assigned to cover the funeral. If we were to ignore these events, we would be doing a disservice to all who care.