Health

Saturday 23 August 2014

Shared grief can help heal in a time of true suffering

For those both with and without faith, coming together in the wake of a death can partly ease the pain

Following the death of her friend Tom O’Gorman, Patricia Casey attended a candlelight vigil which commemorated him and helped deal with his loss. Photo: Thinkstock

GRIEF makes us all raw. The loss of an individual in circumstances that cannot be contemplated, let alone spoken of, has starkly confronted hundreds of people whom I know, and myself, over the past week. We learnt of the death of our friend Tom O'Gorman as we woke up on Sunday morning.

The actual details were only made public on Monday and they brought with them revulsion, despair and hopelessness: revulsion at the desecration that had taken place, despair that any human being could descend to commit such vile acts and hopelessness because there seemed no way forward.

We were locked in a state of horror that froze all thoughts except of Tom and the manner of his death. In the confused melee of emotion there were questions that were unanswered.

Was the person who carried out this terrible deed mentally ill? If so that might help explain the nature of the deed. But still no answers were forthcoming.

There was also anger, first of all that he had died at such a young age, when he was in his prime, anger at the manner of his dying and anger compounded by the content of some of the reporting.

In the circumstances of a death such as this, there are no social or cultural norms to guide us as there are with timely deaths such as the loss of a parent or elderly friend in ripe old age.

The loss of Tom did not occur in his bed, surrounded by loved ones. No! It was premature and disturbingly violent.

We respond to such loss in a state of emotional and social blindness. We instinctively telephoned each other to talk about him.

We did so repeatedly and endlessly. We tried to understand the mind of the person who could carry out such a deed. And we were numb with sadness.

We wanted to meet and support each other but we also had jobs and families to attend to. The telephone was not meeting our emotional or spiritual needs.

Then one of our friends organised a prayer vigil -- the huge crowd that attended was proof of the need we all felt to do something to remember Tom and to repair our collective emotional fragility.

I know that text books describe the importance of "social supports" in various aspects of our lives but never have I witnessed how it operates at the coal face of indescribable grief.

The vigil was an experience in healing such as I have never before experienced. And speaking, even to strangers, it was clear they too felt the same.

This powerful service touched both those of faith and those of none.

It swept away the vileness of the previous few days that had inhabited our waking hours and tormented our sleep.

It showed there was goodness and gentleness in the world as well as suffering and wretchedness.

It helped restore our faith in ourselves and in others, confirming that we all have the same needs when it comes to dealing with loss, even in rare and unspeakable circumstances.

It took us to places that many of us do not often journey to.

In our hundreds we gave each other permission to cry, to be silent, to talk and even smile when we thought of Tom.

The words of his friend the celebrant helped us to recognise that this was about remembering Tom but also about helping us, the congregation, deal with such a cruel tragedy.

The tribute to Tom delivered by a close friend did not embellish Tom but spoke of the real man as we all remembered him, with his foibles and his virtues, the same as the rest of us.

The darkness in the Church, except for a few flickering candles, allowed us to weep without embarrassment.

Yet the dim light also told us that hope still existed.

The silence, so profound, that you could hold it, quelled our anger and turmoil and it was finally laid to rest by the lone singer entoning Faure's Pie Jesu -- (good Jesus) .

The words of the last line said it all "sempiternam requiem, sempiternam requiem" (everlasting rest, everlasting rest).

Then the lights slowly illuminated the church. And we reluctantly roused ourselves realising that we could talk and even begin to smile again as we dallied in the aisles, comforted that there was a future transcending the suffering of this world.

Irish Independent

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