Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Why grieving victims must have our long-term support

Our concern for victims' needs must last longer than a wake and a funeral, says Brendan McAllister

It has been heartening to behold the response to the murder of Constable Ronan Kerr. From political and church leaders to ordinary citizens, across the community the condemnation has been loud and overwhelming.

Those responsible for Ronan Kerr's murder can be left in no doubt about how the vast majority of our people feel about such slaughter.

Ronan Kerr's body has now been laid to rest. Media coverage has died down and people have returned to their normal routines.

And as the dust settles, Ronan's family will be left with their own inner struggle with grief.

For the Kerr family, each day will be an endurance for a long, long time to come.

Probably without yet knowing it, the Kerr family have become part of a unique grouping of people - formed over decades in this society: those bereaved by our conflict.

So many bereaved people, who watched the television, listened to the radio and read the newspapers over the past fortnight, will have taken in more than the news of the murder and its aftermath; they will have felt it in a very personal way - mostly unspoken, even to themselves.

Every new murder punches at the wounded hearts of the bereaved of the Troubles; hearts that will never fully heal.

Every new murder stirs memories; takes people back to the start of their own grief and renews the outrage of violence that entered their lives and refuses to ever really leave.

And it is not just the bereaved who feel each new murder so keenly. There are so many who survived the kind of bomb that took Ronan Kerr's life.

There are individuals who lost limbs to booby-trap devices and who live with terrible pain now. Their families have also travelled a long journey of recovery with them - well, actually, not 'recovery', because lost legs do not grow back and the seriously injured represent another form of managed loss in this society.

Underneath the news coverage of Constable Ronan Kerr and his family; underneath the concern and undoubted distress of the general public, a whole constituency of our people heard the explosion again in their own heads.

They heard again the terrible news brought to a family's door; felt again how such news turns your life upside down and inside out, never to be the same again.

Ronan Kerr's funeral was a solemn, civic occasion. It provided hugely significant symbolism, with the PSNI and GAA publicly united in a moment of shared mourning.

It was a sign of the depth and strength of the nationalist community's new investment in policing; a sign that we have truly entered a new era in which all of society identifies with its police service.

For Ronan Kerr's mother Nuala and her family, aside from the civic dignity, the funeral was a ritual of leave-taking for someone precious and intimate.

In that regard, the bereaved of the Troubles will feel for them in these days. For the rest of society, it is important that our attention to victims lasts longer than the days of a wake and funeral.

We must be interested in their welfare, committed to their long-term needs and willing to learn from their trauma.

We must keep an ear for them for a long time to come.

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