Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Memories and Manchester mourning

On 4th July 2005, I was sitting in my office on the second day at my new job, as the main Welfare Officer of the student union. It was a big job and a serious job. I was exhausted after exams, and meeting with Anne, a representative from the university counselling service. At 10:00 I got a phone call from my mum. My brother had killed himself. I could not have asked for better company when I received that news. I had known Anne for four years and she knew me about as well as anyone. She talked me through the next couple of hours and I got a train back to my home town of Crewe.

Over the next few weeks, very little seemed to make sense. Three memories stand out from all the chaos. The first was when I was walking down Cornmarket, the main shopping street of Oxford, early in the morning. I couldn't understand how people were still going about their daily lives. They were opening shops, taking out rubbish, drinking coffee, moving boxes around. Didn't they know that Dylan had died? It felt offensive that people didn't seem to care. Nobody even frowned or paused as I passed. Of course they knew nothing about Dylan or how his death affected me. I felt hurt and angry, and a little guilty that I was wanting strangers to stop what they were doing for someone they had never met.

The second memory that stands out was when I was talking to my ex boyfriend. It was the Oxford Pride and I decided to go out and try to do something positive with my time. As I spoke to him, I found myself repeating myself and not quite sure how or why I was doing it. It was as though I had lost the ability to have a conversation, or even keep track of what I was saying. As someone who nearly always has something to say, it was disturbing to lose that lucidity.

The final memory I want to discuss is the one that came back to me today. Three days after my brother's death, there was a terrorist attack in London, killing over fifty people. All of a sudden the nation was in shock and mourning. I was even more tired than I was already from the chaos and shock. I was rapidly finding that continuous grief was not sustainable, it was just too demanding. Seeing the news suddenly gave me a little hope, as if I wasn't alone in all of this. It felt like the whole nation was grieving with me, and for a few days it felt like it was okay for things to fall apart. Things had fallen apart for everyone.

Last night there was a suicide bomb attack at a venue less than a mile from where I live, a venue I had been to last year. Twenty two people have died so far, and more than fifty are injured. When I see a terrorist attack in somewhere that I recognise and love, it affects me personally. It takes me back to how I felt in 2005, in the immediate wake of Dylan's suicide. Knowing this attack happened in a place I had been to, ten minutes walk from my home, in my home country, makes it even worse. In addition to the normal sense of anger and sadness, I also have sense of personal loss that will never fully heal.