So that’s the end of November. The “Month of the Dead”.
I’ve written before about it being tough for me with the anniversary of the year my mother died and our baby a day later. Like everyone, it’s a personal grief and never forgotten.
A week after their anniversary comes the militarised memory that has become so propagandised and, despite its contested nature, narrow in scope and debate. Its exclusive nature is an exaltation of the military establishment and their policies, rather than a reflection of private loss. And this prevents any honest reflection of the loss and harm those policies created, to civilians, including on our own streets, or even to the “fallen” themselves. This saddens me as much as it angers me.
Last week however I witnessed how memory can be respectful, inclusive and while indeed painful, contributes to healing.
In Court 12 Laganside I listened to ten families bearing witness to their mother, fathers, brothers killed in the Ballymurphy Massacre. We honestly don’t have enough words in the English language for how deeply moving those ten “personal statements” were. There was consistent insistence on us hearing and knowing the person behind the circumstances in which they were killed. The father who bought his wife a certain box of chocolates so his daughter could put the ribbon in her hair, the mother who longed for red haired children, the brother who worked three jobs to make a nice home for his young family. Again and again we were invited into the homes that once laughed and joked and sang. Again and again we were then told of the devastation afterwards. Devastation that has never healed. Most of all, these witnesses, eight women and two men, spoke of their parents. With heartbreaking honesty they all wanted us to understand exactly how each killing tore the hearts from their families.
After each statement through the tears, hugs and kisses all ofthe families enveloped themselves in, the words “it’s like a funeral without the body” were uttered. Ten families became one family in that court as they put their loved ones’ accurate memories on the official record.
The evening of the last statement in Laganside, we went to St Dominic’s for our daughter’s GCSE prizegiving evening. It was a celebration of youth, achievement, hope and potential. Laughter and music filled the room. And then a family were invited to the stage. Ciara Park’s family lost their daughter while she was a pupil in St Dominic’s. Since then her family have sponsored a prize in her memory. For the first time her mummy attended. Through her heartbreak, she looked at all ofthe girls with lives in front of them and quietly, generously,shared a little glimpse of her much–loved Ciara with them. It was poignant and beautiful and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. The Parks keep Ciara’s memory alive everyday in their home and, with St Dominic’s staff who embraced them as they would their own family, they continue her name in the school she loved.
The Jewish religion says you can die twice. First when you stop breathing and are buried, and twice when your name is no longer spoken. Loving, respectful memories contribute to healing if we make space for them. Which is exactly what Samhain does.