May 25, 2017

A grieving Manchester mother shows the way

I wrote a post about alliums here yesterday and then deleted it, it suddenly felt too soon and weirdly inappropriate whilst all the horrors in Manchester were still sinking in. I tried to drag my mind to something simple and beautiful but it was too soon. I can't seem to order my thoughts and words around what has happened.

Atrocity on this scale is difficult to take in. It is bewildering to try to understand it, but to the actual families involved the trauma must be utterly unimaginable and life changing in the worst possible way. The thing that is going around in my mind is the outrage done to the parental instinct to protect - all we ever want to do is keep our children as safe and happy as possible. That those poor mums and dads were rendered helpless in keeping their children safe is everything I think parents dread the most. We know in our heads that there are no guarantees that our children will remain free from harm, but we do everything reasonable to keep them so, it is our most basic function and instinct. I have found that having older children, this protective urge has to segue towards a willingness to give them space and opportunity to stretch their wings, carve out their own independence and responsibility. It has been the hardest thing I have ever done. It causes me sleepless nights, anxious thoughts and the occasional splitting headache - but is my job and responsibility to keep letting go, I can't allow my fear to fail them this right of freedom. I have often filled the growing spaces between us with too much advice and words, unsure if my letting go is not enough or too much. I have had to grow up a bit with them, show some spine, take each day at a time and trust both my and their wisdom.

My parents were and are amazing at this job of parenthood, the keeping safe and the letting go, the offering of roots but the encouragement of growing wings. It was my pa's birthday recently and I wrote him this little poem about a real summer's day when I was about four years old when my dad scooped me onto his shoulders realising a friend's joke about monsters in a nearby creek had got out of hand. He took away my fears that long-ago day and his solid, steadfast love continues to strengthen me to this day. But he can't protect me from everything, all he can do is be there for me. And likewise, all of us for our children.

Pa, you lifted me high, so high that day,
When slimy critters lurked, they said, 
In salty creeks and under bridges.

You put me on your shoulders,
You scooped me up and out
Of stories I didn't understand
But feared.

Just like you did that summer's day,
Still now you raise me up,
Still now you march me home, aloft,
Back home to who I am, what I can be.

So, when such heinous acts of terrorism or calamity occur, it is heartbreaking to think of the impotent longing they must feel to scoop their loved ones back to safety. The callous outrage inflicted upon the natural desire to keep their children from harm could not be more offensive or obscene.

What can we can possibly offer them? Our absolute solidarity and witness to their pain, our kindest thoughts and most heartfelt prayers? Practical dedication to try and bring more compassion and love to the world? It doesn't seem enough right now does it, because it won't bring their children back? But, this morning I heard the courageous words of the mother of Olivia Campbell, (of one of the children who lost her life), and her one message was to stay strong, and above all to not let the evil beat us:

"As a family we are united and standing strong. I ask her friends, strangers, relatives, to do the same. Please stay together and please, don't let this beat us. Don't let my daughter be a victim."

So, that brave voice is my guide - be united, be strong and stand together, be defiant against evil, keep going. Just keep going. We have to keep the hope alive that love is stronger than hate. The people of Manchester have been a stunning, tangible example of that over the last couple of days.