Editor's Viewpoint: Christmas is a time to fondly remember departed loved ones
The empty chair is an image often used at this time of year to denote the loss of a loved one. It signifies how a family sitting around the table during the festive season is faced with a chair which was occupied at that time a year earlier but now, and forever more, that person will be missing.
It is always on the first Christmas that the loss is most acute. The hurly burly of daily life enables most people to carry on amidst their grief but at this time of the year with its emphasis on family, the reality of loss hits home.
Take the case of Ruth Maguire, the mother-of-three who died in a tragic drowning accident while on a hen night in Carlingford in March this year. Yesterday her partner James and their three young children were faced with that empty chair.
It must have been tough for Ruth was a big presence in the family and an arch organiser. But James has played his part to the full following the tragedy and tried to make the Christmas period as normal as possible and he was supported by Ruth's family also.
To lose a daughter, aunt, partner, sister and mother in such a tragic manner - it is believed she slipped and fell from the pier into the water - is all the more difficult to accept because of the sheer happenstance of the incident. Ruth was not a great party goer and rarely drank. Even on the night she died her alcohol level was depleting, showing that she had taken relatively little.
But tragedy takes many forms and on that night fate decreed that it would be Ruth's turn. How can you explain that to her young children? How can others accept such a cruel twist of fate? Why would a young woman about to get married end up being buried in her wedding dress? There are no answers to salve the grief.
Her family feel an inquest which returned an open verdict has given them some closure but nothing will erase the grief. Time merely allows the bereaved to live with what happened.
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All those who loved Ruth deserve great credit for thinking of others at this time. Her mother wants the local council to erect a barrier on the pier and resurface it to give pedestrians a better grip.
Had such remedial work been carried out in the past Ruth, perhaps, might have been alive today. Her family is hoping that their suggestion could save other families from enduring the nightmare which visited them in March and still haunts them to a degree.
Of course this family are not alone in facing an empty chair this year and others may similarly be wondering why tragedy picked them out. They too have to show the resilience to continue with life which may have changed utterly in one respect but which must also continue as usual in so many other ways.
Only those who have been bereaved in tragic circumstances can ever fully understand the heart-rending shock of the initial news and the wondering thereafter if some other little twist of fate might have saved the lives of their loved one.
In her emotional interview with this newspaper, Ruth's sister Rachel reveals it is the simple things they shared - especially their daily chats - which she misses most. It is easy to take each other's presence for granted when still young and feeling invulnerable.
It is only in their passing that often we realise the pivotal role someone plays in the family. They not only leave an empty chair but a gaping hole in family life which is virtually impossible to fill.