[Updated: I wrote this during the late evening of Tuesday 15th April. After posting, I turned to twitter and the TV and saw the breaking news of a bombing at the Boston Marathon. As I write early the following morning, no-one knows yet who did it or why. But they will not win: already the evil is far outweighed by the stories of positive human spirit, bravery, and countless small acts of kindness of ordinary people for strangers. But some will hurt forever, and as I watch the news I feel it deeply; some families, some children, will need a little more caring today.]
So this is one of those days. One of those days when the lid slips off the box where you normally keep your dark things hidden.
Today (15th April) it’s triggered by the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster when 96 people set off excited to go to a football match, but never came home; and last week was the anniversary of the murder of two Leeds United fans in Istanbul. Think of all those families, all those parents, all those children, the friends and others who knew them. And those less directly affected, such as the other spectators and emergency services. All nursing memories today.
Today, these happen to be football examples, but it can just as easily be a news story, a song on the radio, a place, a chance remark.
The Calendar of Minefields
Grief Encounter talk about the Calendar of Minefields: all those occasions when the loss of a parent, brother or sister can catch you out. Birthdays, Christmas, Mothers’ Day or Fathers’ Day….
I recognise that. I have tiptoed through my own minefield for over 35 years now; and it doesn’t get any easier. I have always had a problem with the expression “coming to terms with it”: I am not sure you ever do, I think you just train yourself to bear it.
For children I think it may be harder to manage, simply because they have less experience by which to understand and judge things… and also more years – more minefields – to face.
And then there is the minefield of missed occasions to negotiate. My Dad wasn’t there when I got my school results, or to see me in my university graduation gowns. He never met my wife or children; they never met him. I made a poor stand-in at my sister’s wedding. He never saw me run a marathon. These are not anniversaries to be endured; rather, they are new occasions to mourn a little: “Oh, wouldn’t Dad have loved this, if only he could have been here!” Children, by punishment of their years, will face more of these missed occasions.
Writing these things inevitably risks becoming engulfed in a cloud of melancholy. But it is not all darkness. Talking about it can have a healing, strengthening effect, too: doing it on my own terms and timing, rather than being tripped up by it. Also, each time you tread on a mine and survive (which you must) can mean you that can’t be hurt as much next time. And I think that the dark times have also left me programmed somehow to squeeze the very best out of the good times. My son has been home from university for a week or so, and I never, ever forget – even when things don’t go smoothly – how lucky I am to have each moment.
And here is another good thing to come out of it: now you have read this, you can make a note about Grief Encounter; you can tell a few people about what they do; you could even sponsor me, to help them steer some of this year’s bereaved children through their minefields.