Saturday 1 October 2016

Berkeley tragedy: We might just be repeating ourselves, but talking does help

Barbara Scully

Published 18/06/2015 | 02:30

Labhaoise Murphy signs a book of condolences for the Berkeley victims in Dún Laoghaire Town Hall yesterday. Photo: Collins
Labhaoise Murphy signs a book of condolences for the Berkeley victims in Dún Laoghaire Town Hall yesterday. Photo: Collins

Almost 24 hours after the news of the horrific accident in Berkeley which has robbed us of six of our young people and turned the lives of others completely upside down, I feel like I am drowning in the media coverage which, in reality, is not saying anything new. Because what is there to say?

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Just like any community when tragedy strikes, we all feel powerless, useless. How can we help? What can we say to help ease the pain of those whose lives have been devastated in the last 24 hours? How can we make sense of the randomness of life? The randomness that causes some among us to have to hear the most heartbreaking news on what should be an ordinary, summer Tuesday morning?

Like many people, I suspect, before I experienced death at close quarters, I hated going to funerals and removals because they involved having to go and utter what I considered banalities at the bereaved family.

"I'm so sorry for your loss" being the urban equivalent of "I'm sorry for your trouble". I hated doing it and felt I was almost offering an insult in the face of the enormity of the loss of a loved one.

Then my brother died. Unexpectedly and suddenly. He was 31 - a decade older than those who we have lost in California - but still a very young man.

His funeral and removal were huge. We stood for what seemed like hours as we were heaped with expressions of sympathy from people we knew and people we didn't.

Read more: Berkeley tragedy: 'When you look at the papers, don't you see the photos of your own children?' - Taoiseach

My husband was then my fiancé and being an Englishman, he had never experienced the like of it before. But I am grateful to each and every person who came and offered a hug or shook my hand with sympathy. It helped.

I don't know why or how, but it did. It felt like my community was trying to share the burden of grief myself and my family were grappling with. We felt the wave of affection and empathy deep in our hearts and it made a difference.

In the dark hours after news of the tragedy in Berkeley broke, our local church in Foxrock, Dublin, opened its doors and invited people to come and pray for the local young women who we have lost.

Church bells pealed at midnight and apparently the church was full. People lit candles, prayed and were together. It helped.

Last night, my daughters sat together with their friends, all students at the same school from which two of the victims graduated in 2012. They talked about what had happened. Some have older sisters who knew the girls who died.

Read more: Picture shows remaining wooden 'stumps' of balcony following Berkeley tragedy

The shock and horror of how life can be over so prematurely is something they talked about till the church bells rang at midnight.

So the media may sound to my ears like they are going round in circles, discussing this tragedy, but at some level it helps.

Like the younger girls, we cannot make sense of what has happened. We probably never will. Young men and women on working holidays, in the middle of their university education, on the cusp of life, should not die. But sometimes, they do.

At times like this, one realises just how small a country Ireland is. It seems like the entire country feels this loss sharply. And we are all talking about it, trying to make sense where there is none and offering sympathy to those whose lives will never be the same again.

Through the media conversations I hope the bereaved families will feel our empathy, our sympathy and I hope in some small way it helps.

Berkeley Tragedy Victims' Fund

The Irish Immigration Pastoral Centre in San Francisco has set up an online account to raise funds for the students affected by this tragedy and to assist the immediate needs of their families.

Click here to make a donation to the fund

Irish Independent

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