There are few things that remind us of how divided we are in life than how we treat the dead and those who grieve for them.

This week William Frazer died after a very long and painful illness. Willie was a victims campaigner, a flag protestor, a UDR member, a son, a husband and a father.

He emerged in a time of peace to oppose pillars of the peace process. He was the public face of a campaign against the early release of political prisoners, the near riot in the Europa Hotel upon publication of the Eames Bradley report and the promotion of a hierarchy of victimhood.

He undoubtedly represented many in his own constituency but often in a most hurtful and insulting manner. His attempts at tom foolery brought him ridicule in his lifetime but much ofthat tom foolery was sectarian.

I was in his company when he caused harm and hurt to others who also grieved loved ones and yet I also saw him advocate in a way where we found common ground, on the needs of those harmed by conflict and when resources were needed. But he consistently diminished the experience of others harmed by conflict. That is a truth that cannot be avoided.

However, he was ultimately always the little boy whose daddy was killed. His vulnerability and pain was in evidence for all to see.

I find no difficulty in expressing sympathy with his family whom he loved. Or in hoping he rests in peace.

Some people who never met him wished him ill through social media. They said horrific things that would have hurt his family in the hours of his passing. Keyboard warriors let themselves down. For the most part those comments, some of which were sectarian, were called out on Friday night in ourcommunity. Those who posted pretty awful things were admonished immediately and publicly. 

However vitriol such as that has consequences. If we cannot respect a grieving family, we are all diminished. If we cannot leave space for the grief of those who mourn, our entire society loses its moral compass.

Our community knows that because so many in our community experienced that treatment, often from the state itself and certainly by official bodies. We cannot be a mirror image of harm. Otherwise we repeat the harms we condemn.

Within the condemnation of the horrible comments there were those whose hypocrisy was stark though. They do not offer the same defence of other grieving families.

I did not see the same strength and heat from some liberal quarters when awful things were posted following the passing of Martin McGuinness two years ago, or last week when Kevin McKenna died. I saw few comments expressing sentiments such as respect for the grieving as Michelle O’Neill was barraged for speaking at a republican commemoration in her own constituency. Republicans remembering their dead are routinely abused with no consequence.

Respecting the dead and the grieving needs to be a universal approach if it is to mean anything at all. It must apply to those we love and respect and those we disagreed with. That does not mean we become dishonest. 

Respectful, honest, engagement and reflection, which gives space for grieving families is hardly beyond our abilities. If it is then our conflict did more damage than I can countenance.

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