A parent's grief shared by all
It is said that when your parents die, you lose your past, when your spouse dies, you lose your present and when your child dies, you lose your future. If you lose a parent, you are an orphan; if you lose a spouse, you are a widow. But there is no word to describe what you are when you lose a child. How do you name something that you cannot comprehend?
The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, captured something of the collective sense of loss felt by parents everywhere at the tragic deaths of six young people in Berkeley, California, on Tuesday. "When you look at the newspapers this morning," he said, "don't you see the faces of your own children, sons and daughters, at the start of a great adventure in life?"
From the published synopses of their short lives, it is evident that Olivia Burke, Eimear Walsh, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster, Lorcan Miller and Ashley Donohoe were excited at the start of this summer to set off on a great adventure in the United States of America. Like 7,000 others this year, like 150,000 in the last 50 years, they participated in what has become a rite of passage, the J-1 visa programme, not just to learn from the world around them but also, it is clear from the testimonies of the people of Berkeley, to share in return, with open and smiling faces, the joy of their spirit and the exuberance and vitality of their existence.
It is fair to assume that their parents, and those of the seven others still in hospital, urged their children to enjoy the experience, certainly, but also to take good care of themselves, according to the anxieties of all parents so correctly identified by Mr Kenny. Be they the parents of those on a summer visa programme or among the thousands who have emigrated in recent years. It is also fair to assume that the acuteness of those anxieties was probably lost to an extent on those who had set off on life's great adventure, as it was lost on their parents and grandparents before them, and will be again on others yet to follow in their footsteps.
The circumstances surrounding the collapse of the balcony in the Library Gardens apartment on Kittredge Street will be fully investigated and, in due course, the facts will be confirmed as they should be and the consequences will appropriately gather where they may. It is not those details, important though they are, which concern us at this moment, but the welfare and wellbeing of those who are left behind - friends new and old; families, immediate and extended, but perhaps most of all, the parents of those who have died, and those injured, who received the news which confirmed the far extreme of their anxieties.
We also know this: the six who have died had got together with friends to celebrate a 21st birthday, the coming of age of a young person's transition from childhood to adulthood. Then, death arrived among all that sound, as the poet Pablo Neruda has written, like a shoe with no foot in it, like a suit with no man in it, came and knocked, using a ring with no stone in it, with no finger in it, came and shouted with no mouth, with no tongue, with no throat.
There is no right way to grieve. It has been said that the work of mourning is like a struggle through a ragged underbrush without an upward path because there is no path. You have to let people grieve in the way that they can. They get stronger, they try and live on, they endure, and they change, but do not get over it. They carry it with them. In whatever small way we can, we all share their load.