How do we find the right words? The English language creaks under the burden of expressing sore, empty feelings of grief. 

When the greatest tree in the forest falls everything changes. The ground is ripped open by the enormity of its roots so solid in the ground coming to the surface, scarring all around it. The space it had filled in the sky is open, and the sunlight too raw.The space below to which it had offered shelter in the rainbecomes too wet. The same space becomes too dry and too hot without its shade. Its elegance and beauty as it stood solidly through storms and gales, and which gave safety and confidence to those afraid and in search of sanctuary, is now missing. There are other trees in the forest, equally great, but they have grown with this tree and we find it so difficult to see them without this great tree we loved. While other trees have fallen before none had the spread, reach and impact of this great tree’s falling.

But when we clear our eyes of tears and recover from the shock we begin to see that the tree lives on. All around its space the ground that at first looked torn up is filled with life. Life that had been nurtured and begot by the life of the great tree. Those that had received shelter have begun to heal and found strength so that they can continue their journeys. The trees that at first seemed alone are joined by the many other trees, younger but just as strong, that have grown because the great tree was there.

I feel inadequate writing any words in tribute to Martin McGuinness. Who possibly can write well enough? I know I can’t. Who can capture the sum of a life of service to his country that spanned so many short decades? Who can capture the feelings of privilege to have known him and the absolutecertainty that we are all better for having had him?
And today it feels far too soon to enter into a meaningful discussion on his legacy. We can still feel his last hug around our shoulders, his last grasp of our hands in his, the last time he smiled as he remembered our names, the last time he sat still and respectfully listened to us, or the last time we stood up in pride to clap when he spoke. I recognise there are many who will not grieve. But many of us will and are.

I suppose the best things we can do in the coming days is share our positive memories. Speak to each other of the great lessons we were taught and we learned. And dedicate ourselves to the best of all of that. For if we do then surely he lives on. 

For me that will include standing up for those less able to stand up for themselves. Giving shelter to those in need, to great personal sacrifice.  Being principled, and recognising that strength is not an immovable version of how that was previously defined but by its nature means constant development. 

His family and friends deserve the space and support to grieve for a man whom they shared, but who was theirs. Ní beidh a leithéid ar ais.

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