Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

It's a flaw of mankind that scorns the sanctity of life

Last Sunday morning a nurse from Altnagelvin hospital rang me at 5.20am to tell me my mother Alice had died. She had been largely paralysed for three years from a stroke, a hammer-blow which only seemed to bring out the best in her.

She had several health problems, but it was kidney failure which got her in the end.

She had been expected to live days, or weeks, longer, but we had been preparing for this bereavement and most of the family had visited my mother the day before she died.

She was fully aware that the end was near, but weary and, when asked, told people she was feeling fine. My mother hated fuss and displays of emotion.

As I was driving to my father's home with such thoughts in mind, I happened to turn on Radio Ulster. It was Kim Lenaghan. "Welcome to this new day, on this Mother's Day," she chirruped.

I filled with emotion. Memories came flooding back and the melancholy lyrics of A Mother's Love's A Blessing started playing in my head. 'You'll never miss a mother's love 'til she's buried beneath the clay' is the maudlin climax.

It brought to mind the mothers of Ronan Kerr, the PSNI officer cut down at the age of 25 in Omagh and of the seven UN workers slaughtered in Afghanistan by a lynch-mob which gathered after Friday prayers.

Many other mothers' sons perished in Libya and worldwide in the run up to Mothering Sunday. These young people were killed - for the most part - as a blood sacrifice to the ideologies of the old and the bitter.

Burying a dear parent is a low-point in most lives, but it is the natural order of things.

It is a particularly cruel and unnatural thing for parents to bury their children. Around 800BC it was cited as one of the worst horrors a person could face in Homer's Odyssey.

My mother was 81. She had what people have hoped for from time immemorial; she died at an advanced age, peacefully and with a clear mind in her bed.

Hours before death, she had seen her family and loved-ones; she was prepared and calm.

Everything that needed to be done was done. Devastated as we were, we were also lucky to have known her for so long.

Nuala Kerr - a woman who had already buried her husband - had no time to prepare for her loss. She can have no consoling reflection that her son had lived a full life, for he was just starting out on his career. Many believe that a middle-aged former Tyrone IRA commander, bitter and disappointed by his own wasted youth in pursuit of an impossible outcome, is behind the killing.

Like the mob who bayed for blood around the UN compound in Afghanistan, he may stifle conscience with the thought that he acted out of some frustrated principle.

Thankfully, the whole community - from the unionist parties to the GAA and the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny - have gathered round to react on a human level to this needless death.

Constable Kerr's killers would do well to heed the voice of the Irish people.

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