After lunch today, I will drive down the M62 to Manchester. Sadly, after Monday night, it is the current centre of the universe – although proud Mancunians will say it’s always the centre of things – with the eyes of the world and its media focused upon its magnificent public spaces and fantastic people. I am meeting up with some of those fantastic people as I get together my Lexington North colleagues for a long-planned late afternoon of bowling and dinner.
On my way to the office I plan to call by St Ann’s Square to pay my respects on behalf of Team Jones; a place I have been so many times before but never with such a heavy heart. One of the last times I was there was with Mrs J, in the days PMJ (pre Miss J), at a wedding in the beautiful church overlooking the square that gave it its name. That day it was the scene of great joy, beaming smiles, and a few beers as we hung out of the back of The Chop House, spilling into the square with raucous laughter and cheeky banter. Today will surely feel very different.
It was certainly different on Lord Street in Southport this morning, when at 11am we stopped, stood and waited for a few moments in silence to remember our neighbours and the innocence lost just forty four miles down the road. A older man sat on a bench along from us took off his sunhat for the duration of the silence in a simple but poignant salute.
One of the youngsters who left us that night went to school just a few miles from here, in Tarleton, with many others from these parts at the concert or involved in the various rescues and recoveries. This is Manchester’s tragedy, a national tragedy but also one that has directly touched so many lives in this part of the country; with many hearts broken or damaged as schools trips, work nights out and family treats taking place at the arena that night – for those of us of a certain age it will always be the Nynex or MEN.
Just as with all minute’s silence, I always have a sense of trepidation. How will we know it’s started? Will someone speak by mistake, not knowing what is going on? Have I turned my phone off? Will I cry? I always find such occasions unnervingly moving. Sadly, I have stood many, many times at Anfield as we remembered our 96 brothers and sisters and their families and friends in silence. We so rarely stand, en masse, in silence together, that this simple act of remembrance and defiance becomes deeply profound.
In a strange way I am looking forward to being in Manchester today, to be part of something bigger than myself, to show support, to join hands with Manchester, to confront the pain we are all feeling, especially in the face of this love and grief. As Dr Colin Murray Parkes, a pioneer in the hospice movement, said, “The pain of grief is just as much part of life as the joy of love:it is perhaps the price we pay for love, the cost of commitment. To ignore this fact, or to pretend that it is not so, is to put on emotional blinkers which leave us unprepared for the losses that will inevitably occur in our own lives and unprepared to help others cope with losses in theirs.”
When my Nan died I felt a grief that I had only heard about in books or films. It was en epic, Shakespearian grief. The emptiness, the aching pain, the spontaneous welling up for months later, the recurring dreams of her face, her house, her voice. Only through a process of counselling and facing my grief – square on, smack bang in the face and welcoming it into my life – was I able to process it and move to a point where I could think of her without being overwhelmed. That was a long process – and one that I am still on today and probably will always be on, more than a dozen years later. Mary was 74 when she died and I had the privilege of having her in my life for over a quarter of a century. I look upon that time now as a great gift – a great happiness that I was lucky to have.
We cannot measure our grief in days, months, or years, or even in the tears we shed. There is no numerical measure of love but there is comfort – hard to find right away – but comfort in the depth of our feelings that show themselves in our sense of loss and grief. I can only try to imagine the grief of those who have lost someone in these last few terrible days who was still a child, or had only been in their lives for too short a time but meant the world to them. I can only hope they find a path to embrace their grief too. I can only hope that in time, they can enjoy as I do now, the memories of my Mary – of their loved ones – with a smile, not a tear.