Thursday, May 31, 2012

How much does it help to share the pain?

When terrible things happen, how much raw pain do we want see shared in the world? How much of other people’s pain, especially strangers’ pain, is it good for us to take on?
We probably all discussed these tender topics when we saw the pictures of the beautiful Weekes triplets, killed at only two years of age in the shopping mall fire in Doha.
We cringed at the horror of it. We wondered how their parents could ever cope with such a terrible loss. How could they stand going back to their apartment to face three empty cots, all the toys, the clothes, the emptiness?
We saw staunch, stunned grandparents leaving on the first plane out to get to Qatar as fast as they could. God, what a terrible journey it must have been for them.
People are quick to speak of the parents’ loss when children die too soon, but grandparents have a dreadful burden too, grieving not only the shock absence of beloved grandchildren but having to comfort the bereaved parents as well, one of whom is your own child. Always your child, even if they’re hitting middle-age. Their pain is your pain.
That private pain spilled into our living rooms as the shattered parents sat down before TV cameras to give an interview, somehow finding in their bruised hearts the ability to be gracious about Qatar and to refrain from blaming anyone.
At least one friend told me she couldn’t bear to watch any of it.
In the same week, news bulletins showed us the wrapped bodies of children butchered in Syria. That, too, was dreadful, but we cared about this family because they’re Kiwis, part of our larger ‘family’. We are affected like we were when Pike River exploded and Christchurch crumbled, but the Weekes tragedy is unique in its poignancy.
The triplets’ very lives were miraculous, only made possible by IVF, born achingly early, born because they were so very wanted and because Jane Weekes, especially, must have gone through hell to even bring them into the world.
Journalists squirm a little (if they have a well-tuned sense of ethics) when such stories crash into our consciousness. When TV1 brought us the interview, news bosses were obviously conscious some viewers might see it as intrusive. It wasn’t our idea, they asserted. The Weekeses offered to do it, they said. News anchors talked a lot about 'paying tribute'.
On Breakfast, Petra Bagust struggled not to weep and said, a bit desperately, that it was a chance for the parents to 'celebrate their children’s lives'.
Oh, I thought, but did they really want to do that in front of the whole nation, stared at by all those millions of us who did not know them before, and now feel desperately sorry for them, but can’t really do anything to ease their pain or make it right?
A tragedy like this is utterly wrong. It will leave a wound for the longest time in the hearts of those who know the family well and love them dearly.
None of us can know what we'd do at such a time. Choose privacy or disclosure? Quiet mourning or open grief, recorded in close-up by a camera on someone’s shoulder?
I hope the interview helped Martin and Jane Weekes. I hope that the huge sorrowful sigh that went up from the whole country might, in some indefinable way, help this family and others who are grieving in a thousand ways for their own separate tragedies.
Perhaps, somehow, sharing such loss is a sort of glue that helps us stick together.
Or maybe seeing strength in others gives courage to the rest of us. It's about the only small gleam of light that can shine out of such a sad space.

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