Tragedy will inevitably come during life, but, in the face of recent adversity, our shared humanity has shown its best sides.
Westminster Bridge, Manchester, London Bridge, Finsbury Park, Grenfell Tower. It might feel like we have been battered with loss and grief in recent times.
In the aftermath of tragedy and heartbreak many questions arise. Why did this happen? What did I do wrong? Where do I go from here? How do I grieve? Who can I turn to?
It’s easy to feel isolated, victimised and confused after something as life-changing as any of these recent tragedies. Every individual will react differently when faced with tragedy or loss, and vulnerability and fragility are only natural. It is this which makes our various community responses to such events all the more striking and, at times, extremely moving.
There is no formula or method for grief, especially after a sudden loss. Our spontaneous reactions to things speak volumes about our most human needs and desires, and our understanding of these things in the people who are hurting most.
Our modern world means that there is no traditional model for responding to grief and loss. From the laying of flowers to prayer vigils to the use of a hashtag – we are lucky to be living at a time which enables us to grieve as openly or privately and in as many different ways as we like.
“No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” – John Donne
In the immediate aftermath of the London Bridge and Finsbury Park attacks and Grenfell Tower fire, there was an outpouring of practical responses and acts of kindness.
People offered shelter, telephone lines, food, clothing, bedding and volunteered themselves – and, in the case of Grenfell, continue to do so. These actions are a reflection of our deeply held desire to live and thrive as social communities. We may live on an island, but we certainly aren’t islands ourselves.
“I concern others and they concern me.” – Simone de Beauvoir
Something which we can only learn through experience is how different people want to deal with death. This can be especially difficult with children, for whom a sudden loss of this kind might be their first experience of grief, an unknown territory.
Sue McDermott OBE works at Rainbows GB, a child bereavement charity. She says, “The biggest thing you can give them is your time, and time to express how they’re really feeling. However much time it takes, you have to answer their questions, and be honest. We don’t know why some people have died. It’s important to let a child know that you are emotional about that situation as well. It gives them permission.”
The “One Love Manchester” concert which was organised by Ariana Grande and held at Old Trafford Cricket Ground just two weeks after a suicide bomber attacked fans at another of her concerts was a remarkable and resounding response from the international musical and creative communities.
By organising a second charity concert, Ariana Grande showed a deep and powerful understanding of the way in which these young people, whose lives had been irreversibly changed that night, wanted and needed to express their grief.
Not only was this concert a stand against those forces which had so cruelly injected horror into the lives of innocent people, but it showed the world in the most beautiful way possible that our responses to grief are unique and that our deepest human reactions are to come together after tragedy.
Tragedy will inevitably come during life, but, in the face of recent adversity, our shared humanity has shown its best sides. In an event such as the Grenfell Tower fire, people had a common bond forced upon them through loss, suffering and fear. Among this deep sadness, we came together, unknowingly let down our barriers, and forgot our social or cultural differences.
The recent harsh reality of death and dying in our daily lives has forced us to think about our values. Slowly, as we pick up the pieces and start to put our lives back together again, we start to ask different questions. How do we treat each other? How should we live? How can I be a better person?
The “well” of “The Art of Dying Well” is different for everyone. Like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, we are all different parts of a greater, harmonious whole, and part of the journey is figuring out how we all fit together.