On Saturday, I was driving to the gym as I usually do. As I was pulling into the car park I was listening to the news. I was vaguely listening, but was thinking about more urgent matters. As I pulled up my phone went. It was one of the guys I play five a side football with. He is not in the habit of calling on a Saturday morning. As I answered the call, I expected a request for a PA system or some info which may form part of a blog about some aspect of life in Barnet. People call me and email me all the time. When I answered, there was a strange tone to his voice. Not the usual jolly banter that team mates exchange. He said "have you been listening to the news?". Yes, I just had? Realising something was seriously not right and I'd not picked up on it, I asked. Nothing could have prepared me for the awful news that followed. One of our five a side squads son had died in a tragic accident. I was dumbstruck. A couple of weeks ago, we'd been having a curry and my friend was saying how proud he was of his son. And then it is extinguished. What can you say? I was dumbstruck. Over the past week, both my daughters have departed for University. On top of all the normal feelings a parent has, this tragic news sent me into a mild panic attack. When your children are small and at home, you can to some extent protect them. On the weekend when they leave home, to recieve such a wakeup call as to just what a punishing world we live in and how you have no way of protecting them, even if you wanted to, was devastating wake. I've always had a devil may care attitude to personal risk. I've always encouraged my kids to take risks, do sports, go out and enjoy themselves. I've always believed that life is there for the living and a soul that takes no risk doesn't really live. But have I really ever considered the downside? My Dad raised me to believe that we are lucky and that even when bad things happen, they are only there to educate us and help us grow as people.
Then something like this happens. You have to reevaluate your philosophy. How can anything good come out of such a tragedy? What greater purpose could such a terrible, random accident have? I am a person of almost unshakeable faith, but my faith has been shaken to the core. What should I say to my friend? How on earth can you do anything that can in any way help? I thought back to 2008 when my mother passed away. In the scheme of tragic events, the death of an 83 year old woman who was in poor health, had had a great life and was ready to take the next stage in their journey cannot be compared. But I was still incredibly cut up and upset at the death of my mum. Despite everything I loved her to bits and new I'd miss her terribly. One of my friends made a special effort to take me out, buy me curries and pour beers down my throat. He gave me an incedible bit of insight. He said "look I know buying you a few beers and a few curries doesn't really help at all, but I really want to be a friend and I genuinely can't think of anything that could possibly help cheer you up right now, so beers and curries will have to do". And the funny thing was that in hindsight it did help. Not the endless hours of me morosely talking about my mum, but the odd snatches when we'd talk about the football, the news or other topics of the day. As the beers went down, my mind wandered from the all encompassing event. Maybe only for a minute or two at a time, but help it did. It was just good to have someone outside my immediate family circle, who were all preoccupied with the same thing.
Grief and bereavement is the most awful thing. I cannot conceive of anything worse than the death of one of my children. It is so horrible, that the mere thought makes me feel physically sick. The events of Saturday brought this home to me big time. For most of us we want to help but we don't know how. We don't want to intrude on others grief, we don't want to say the wrong thing. We don't want to bother people when they have all manner of more important things to do. So we do nothing. It is the safe option but are we really friends if we stand by when our friends most need us? What is the right balance? A card with a note saying to get in touch? An email expressing grief and saying we are there if needed? A telephone call? A knock on the door? It all depends on how close a friend, how the dynamics of your relationship work and how much time you really are prepared to give up. It is all very well saying "call me day or night, anytime and I'll drop anything and make time" But if you get that call and you say "Oh sorry, I'm busy, Auntie Peggie has dropped in for a cuppa right now" then the kind intent could cause more hurt than good. And what to say, as it is hard to know whether a friend would want to talk about their loved one and their loss, or whether they'd want to talk about anything but? And what happens if they open up and lose it ( I am sure I would?). How do we deal with that scenario?
I can't help but think that I spent years at school learning Algebra, E=MC2, how to measure osmotic pressure and Shakespears sonnets, but they never taught me how to help a friend who needs it? Does no one really know? As a society, it seems to me that we are emotionally retarded. We simply want to pretend that everything will be fine and dandy. Value is put on teaching subjects that we never will use and no thought at all given to how on earth what we do when we have a friend who has suffered a loss which is almost unimaginably horrible.
So I have a simple plea. If you've been through such a thing and have something useful to say about the issue, please leave a comment. Please don't just cut and paste a load of links to "helpful charities". I do know how to use google and I can do that myself. I'd like people who have personal experience of helping a friend in such a situation to pass on whatever useful and helpful information you can.
One of the main reasons I writre this blog is I believe that as a community we could and should help and support each other. Sharing information is the most tangible way we can do this.