Loss, tragedy and how volunteering doesn’t ‘make it better’.

As a person who got involved with this group because like so many others I was appalled by the footage of Aylan Kurdi (and many other children) I’m appalled that so many people some of them with families are struggling to stay focused on the main event I really don’t understand it. I spent my 38th birthday (which should have been my daughter’s second birthday) at B- H- sorting clothes for teenage boys no different from my dead nephew who killed himself a fortnight after tragedy had already struck us once. I spent the weeks leading up to what should have been Chris’s 24th birthday (the 29th) blessedly glad to be surrounded by baby-clothes because I never had my own chance to mourn because family death after family tragedy kept hitting us thick and fast.

Tragedy taught me this: In September just after my birthday in 2009 several years after I married, I spent my time alone on a beach in Greece wondering what had become of my marriage, my future, my health and my sanity, as I contemplated ending it all and letting that same strong current we see in all the pictures of folk struggling to keep infants and children alive, wash me out to sea. In the event I threw my wedding ring into the sea, half in frustration and despair , half superstitiously as a propitiatory sacrifice to whatever God or gods might be watching over a failing marriage. However passing over the events that led me to contemplate suicide and which come back to me whenever I see the heartbreaking beauty of the Greek islands as such a backdrop to far deeper suffering than I could ever imagine, I’ll just say that things did not ‘get better’ for a very long time and indeed it took THOSE deaths; the death of two close relatives and an even more personal loss to finally ‘resolve’ the issues that had had me in such turmoil by severing any of the family ties that bound me to that situation by taking away the person who should have been central to the tragedy from the beginning. Chris slipped away, quietly, apologetically one winter’s morning after years of silence in the face of family bickering by those I hesitate to call ‘adults’ who should have taken care of him. Thus it was only justice that I show up for his funeral even though the timing was personally horrific for me. It’s called: adulthood.

I have family, Not ONE of them has ever said they were sorry for our loss. I have friends and only one rallied round. What by comparison have these folk got? I’m not saying we will stop doing anything or stop collecting or donating. BUT what we_are_ in grave danger of doing is denying people support and making them suffer in silence while we focus on our own concerns. It seems to me that we need to sever ourselves from the convoluted part of the struggle and remember that real tragedy and suffering is no game, death is real and it is REALLY happening. It is not ‘just’ something on a screen or to be dramatised. People JUST like us are suffering real pain.Would we really want folk to feel alone for one second tat we could be helping? I think we all have a responsibility to crack on without drama for the sake of everyone who has ever had to attend a funeral on top of a bereavement on top of an injustice.

I’m not an admin in taht group. I’m not a volunteer refugee coordinator. I’ve packed a few things at B- H- and stored some children’s clothing in my flat, that’s all. But I need to divulge something and I hope it will make people think about why we started what we did and aimed to do what we do. I wasn’t there at the beginning and when ideas have been thrashed out I can’t claim to have been there either or to know what the politics behind the scenes might have been like. Due to health reasons I would probably be of limited use in Calais or Croatia or any of the places the refugees are and I probably seem to be of limited use on the ground. BUT I don’t need reminding why we are here. None of us do. Can you even imagine what it is like to have to read these posts on the morning of a parent’s funeral or on a significant date from a grieving point of view? When you remember a relative’s funeral you remember all the unpleasant things that happened at that time. Grief makes any focus on world tragedies hard and you never forget what tragedies happened whilst you yourself were grieving. You also remember your own tragedy whenever the subject of those ‘parallel’ tragedies comes up.

I gave up having live TV about two years ago though it seems much longer for many reasons. I found it absolutely gut-wrenching whenever the BBC showed footage of a Syrian conflict that I did not really understand because you don’t need a politics degree to realise that death is all around when you have just been struck by appalling circumstances yourself. I  found it almost unbearable whenever I saw footage of a dead child or of a hostage situation or footage of a mother who had neglected her children: all stories which were in the news at that time. Does anyone else remember that pitiful row of pushchairs after the attack on the shopping centre in Nairobi or the footage of the house in which a child’s mummified body had been left by its mother? I do remember. It was September and October 2013 and that I told my husband I could not and would not have live television again because if I had to see another dead child it would kill me. In fact as I check, I find it was two years ago today that I saw footage of the house in which four-year old Hamza Khan was killed by his mother and left to mummify, images of a squalor against which not even the Calais Jungle can be called ‘squalid’. Google the case and the BBC weblink tells you that these are ‘shock images’ but I had no such warning when I turned on the television two years ago today as a newly bereaved parent.

My grandfather was in the Merchant Navy in World War Two and my grandparents to the day of their deaths gave to the RNLI because they understood how short a time even a fit adult can survive in the North Sea -or any sea. Fifteen years ago on the first day of our honeymoon my husband and I nearly drowned in the strong undertow off one of the Greek islands: when you see a six foot one, eighteen stone man swept off his feet and pulled down by the undertow and boulders the size of your head are washing around like pebbles you know you are in real trouble. Somehow, my husband got us onto firm ground and all we lost was his wedding ring which slipped off as he grabbed for me. I can’t help feeling that something has come full-circle for me thinking about all the tragedies of the wine-dark sea and asking myself whether this is really the time to be thinking of my own sorrows when others are not waving but drowning.

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