Death has become a constant companion to us of late. The demise of those slain is brought about in various ways. Sticks, stones, knives, machetes, bullets and pellets of every variety and even bare hands are put to questionable use: all resulting in bodies wrapped in shrouds and lives brought to an abrupt end. And for every person gone, there is a group in society that shrugs its shoulders to the soundtrack of wailing dirges sung by their opponents.
The images of floors covered in blood and bodies twisted in ways they were not designed for, or brutalised in a manner that makes you hope the end came early, have been haunting me as I am sure they have many others. Expressing that sentiment has put me smack in the middle of heated conversations with friends and strangers, all trying to make me understand why these people died and who was to blame. Responsibility changes depending on whom you ask and does nothing to lighten the sadness I feel, a sentiment often dismissed as my “western ways” and that made me wonder.
Many years ago I learned that death was an inevitable and intricate part of life; as a nurse I saw death caused by disease, accidents and acts of violence. I have lost friends and a parent, and had to learn to both grieve and support those coming to terms with the demise of loved ones. The events of the past few weeks made me realise that this is what people meant when they labelled me European as I expressed my sadness, and nothing brought this to my attention more than the poignant, painful yet beautiful timeline of a journalist on Twitter.
I am not a big fan of social media in general, but in these times of turmoil it is a great way to keep abreast of the latest developments, rumours and conspiracy theories alike. When things are quieter, I seldom check what people post. Abundant over-sharing of personal details from people I do not know generally bores me but I have been mesmerised by the way this journalist chronicled the last few days of his mother’s life.
He tweeted from her bedside in a hospital, sharing how they spent the last days they would ever have together. His descriptions of singing songs together, the humorous exchanges they had, the bittersweet sadness that seeped through in the words he chose and the love and gratitude with which he spoke of her without ever getting overly sentimental reminded me of the time I had to say goodbye to my mother. In small posts, he celebrated a life and how much it meant to him in full realisation that there was very little left of it.
From experience, I know that being part of that process is of immeasurable value and even if it does not make the grief that follows any less, it helps to have been part of the natural progression of things. Not a chance that many people have had these past few weeks.
That is what haunts me when I see images of Egypt’s dead. There were no goodbyes for them, no loved ones to keep them company and cheer them on, no last memories made or secrets shared. No peace made, feuds resolved or absolution given. No last words to cherish, no wisdoms imparted and no confirmations of love left as a last gift.
I am not impervious to the reasons people are putting themselves (or are being sought out to be dragged) into harm’s way. Some of these explanations make me furious while others stun me into a silent disbelief; the cruelty to which people subject themselves and others often defies reason.
But no matter how normal death is in the grand scheme of things, each individual one has a momentous impact on those who were part of the deceased’s life. All those bodies we have seen were once someone’s child, parent, spouse, lover or friend. And for those left behind, the political, sectarian or criminal reasons that lay at the base of their grief do not negate the empty space and heartache they are now confronting.
I find it hard to pretend I am not aware of that pain and somehow I doubt that is because I am European. I rather think it is because I am human.