Friday, 2 November 2007

Tanya Fund

Apparently today, Friday, is All Souls Day. This day coincidentally for me is a sad milestone as it is midway between my late sister's birthday on September 15 and the anniversary of her death on December 10. At this time of year I am often wading through troughs of dark and tearful emotions. This is difficult but I can't change or ignore their existence. They have to pass before I can set my mind to celebrations.

Unless you live in a more troubled country than mainland Britain, your experience of
loss from a premature, sudden and violent death is more likely far removed from what was commonplace only a generation or two ago. All deaths are traumatic for the survivors but if a death is unexpected or unjust, the burden of loss is compounded by anger, injustice and self-esteem. Losing someone close to you unjustly is not a common shared experience anymore. I think most people don't know what this grief looks like and we suspect unfortunate people like poor Mrs McCann by virtue of her "not being distraught enough". Her body language looks distraught enough to me.

Reaction and recovery from grief has likely changed from my grandfather's sense of it. He lost his brothers and his friends in the First World War and bore it stoically. He apparently could not understand his son's reluctance to take part in active combat in the Second World War (although my father distinguished himself as one of the boffins working on radar) which stemmed from his refusal to accept human sacrifice as necessary to realise the aims of the state as readily as my grandfather did. It may be that my grandfather saw it as a just sacrifice and my father saw it as not.

Like the patriotism that is mobilised in each and every war, I think, enabled by instantaneous mass communication which has manifested the frankly rather creepy public excoriation for celebrities we don't know, that the traumatic grief of the survivors of such incidents as 7/7 and 9/11 has been exploited in the service of the state.

Sensing the 'Diana effect', the ritual acknowledgment and remembrance of the dead lately (as very different to the remembrance of the just-war dead sacrificed in the service of their country) seems to me to be a process stage-managed by the establishment so that the country could 'move on' and 'let the healing begin' so that we, the unaffected public, might quickly move past our shared reactions of outrage and expend our impetus for change and questioning how this happened and why.

It feels like heresy to say it but it is valid to
question the form and taste of the public remembrance service for the dead of 7/7. As I watched the service I sensed some unease at the iconic status given to the candles graphically printed with the locations of the explosions being carried in procession and reverently lit. The gravitas though somehow failed to transcend their similarity to a souvenir candle from the London Transport Museum.
Due to the frequency of such horror lately, I sense a too familiar script in the actions and platitudes of our leaders at stage managed photo-ops and predictability of the reactions of the public and those enabled, by default or otherwise, to hold them to account. In balance, if there is a script, its probably a sensible and pragmatic strategy, although paternalistic and cynical, as decisions made in haste and fury are not always the right ones. Then again, decisions made in calm and collected measures are not always the right ones either.

The Reverend Alan Billings said on BBC Radio 4 'Thought for the Day' this morning that bereavement is a fashionable condition. That could be true in this external manifestation of ceremonies. I really wish I could see his sources as I experience it, outside of public ceremonies, that unjust bereavement is not fashionable, it is now a taboo condition to admit to be suffering from and the status of victims is akin to pariah. It's certainly a dinner party conversation killer to discuss. This compounds the silent and deadly burden of stress on the bereaved too.

My sister Tanya had a gift for inspiring people to do things differently and change their life positively and so, rather than carry my grief silently; I, like many of today's victims of outrages, (following the script) thought it appropriate to channel it publicly towards making something better, as that was her own life's guiding ethic. My hope though is that eventually its status as a memorial framed by my traumatic experience will become quite insignificant, even forgotten, just like other memorial institutions in this world although we must not forget and should always support the institutions, that ensure those people did not die in vain.

On December 6th the committee of the Tanya Bocking Memorial Fund will convene to decide on the next recipients of grants for the training of leaders in outdoor education.

There's still time to apply. I feel we have done what we can to inform appropriate bodies of the funds' existence without using up the fund on advertising but we haven't quite penetrated the consciousness of our intended recipients enough. If you know anyone who might be interested in taking their skills in outdoor leadership further, please contact the fund.

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