Recovery of the
final body lost in the fishing-boat tragedy in Union Hall allowed loved ones to
finally honour and mourn the sudden and sad passing of their loved one. What was striking about the catastrophe
was the very active love, support, compassion provided by individuals of the
Union Hall community and, indeed, beyond, and by the divers who risked their
own lives in search of the missing persons.
In a poem at the
outbreak of World War 11 the poet W.H. Auden wrote: “We must love one another
or die”. How accurate Auden was
and how much that lesson still needs to be learned in so many ways in so many
warn- torn and political- torn countries.
However, there is a paradox to tragedy and war and that is in these
catastrophic times people find it is their hearts to reach out with love,
compassion, consolation, support, cooperation and be self-sacrificing for the
sake of others. I am not
suggesting we need disasters and wars to awaken our true nature, which is love,
but this phenomenon certainly begs the question: how is it that we struggle
with loving others in times of plenty?
How was it that during the ‘boom’ economic times sight was lost of
fairness, equality, individuality, justice and that a ‘me fein’ ethos
predominated. The Dalai Lama
echoed this absence of emotional and social care when he argued that “Love and
compassion have been omitted from too many spheres of social interaction for
too long; their practice in public life is considered impractical, even
naive. This is tragic”.
I believe that
loss, death and difficult times provide some level of emotional safety for
people to express our hunger to give and receive love. These times also allow individuals to
mourn their own experiences of loss of love and loved ones alongside those who
are mourning in the here and now.
Somehow men come more to the fore in times of calamities, as if somehow
their very real reticence around the expression of love can be suspended in the
face of those people who so openly manifest their grief and distress, and even
more poignantly when the bodies of their loved ones cannot be found. We have seen that sad phenomenon
repeated many times when a father or son or mother or daughter went missing
without trace in Northern Ireland.
Even when a body is unearthed over 30 years later, it brings a certain
peace to those bereaved.
and appreciation need to be extended to all those individuals in Union Hall and
beyond who pulled out all the stops to find the missing bodies and allow family
members, relatives and friends to put the souls of their loved ones to
rest. People talk about this as drawing
a closure around the tragedy, but I believe there is no such experience as
closure around the loss – tragic or expected – of a loved one. There is certainly a meeting of the
need to have the body of the loved one laid to rest but one never truly gets
over the death of a loved one.
What we do learn is to live with it and maintain the love connection
that to my mind is both timeless and infinite.
Marie Rilke, the
German poet, says that “to love is to cast light”, while “to be loved means to
be ablaze”. Certainly, the love
shown by individuals in Union Hall ‘cast a light’ not only on those who were
suffering loss but on us all.
Equally – and not often appreciated – the very evident receiving of love
by those who were so evidently bereft set us all ablaze. There is a secret about human love that
is frequently over-looked: receiving is much more frightening and scary than
giving. It has been touching to
witness the love expressed and received so powerfully by all involved in the
Union Hall tragedy. The lesson for
us all is not to wait for tragedy to be expressive of and receptive to love.
I am going to
finish with a poem by Hafiz, which is quoted in a wonderful book by John
Welwood, Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships:
to your feet, wave your fists,
and warn the whole universe
your heart can no longer live
Dr. Tony Humphreys is a Consultant Clinical
Psychologist, Author, National and International Speaker. His book Relationship, Relationship,
Relationship, Heart of a Mature Society is relevant to today’s column.