My son, who is now thirty-three, celebrates his eighth re-birthday today.
On July 4th, 2009, normality imploded.
‘We have your son’… four words changed the world for me. It had changed for my son some hours earlier. I had been in blissful ignorance until the phone rang and the voice said, ‘We have your son.’
The world changed beyond recognition.
I have tried, many times, to speak or to write in some way that captures even a shadow of the blank horror of that day. Words fail. To say that my heart, mind and body screamed for days sounds melodramatic… to say that, at the same time, there was an eye of untouchable, unreachable calm within the scream sounds impossible… Sanity, I think, was only protected by the impossibility of it all. Yet we had to move through each moment, facing those impossibilities head on.
To see a child, one you have grown beneath your heart, so close to death, is every parent’s nightmare. To see a child being torn asunder by terror and grief rends the heart. You are powerless, impotent…. you can change nothing. From this moment onwards, no matter what happens, your family will be held hostage by scars of violence that will never fully heal. There can be no going back to what you knew as normality.
Yet, in spite of the horror, we move through the days. Time shapes a new vision of normality which, though it may be different from the one you once imagined, may yet be beautiful…and some things do not change.
In October 2009, three months after the attack, I wrote:
“The ripples from this have spread very wide. Friends, even miles away, have been through the journey with us, suffering the horror, shock, hope and disbelief. Values have been questioned, lives reassessed. In many ways this has been a devastating event. My youngest son has been very hard hit, family and relationships have been put under strain. Even the financial problems caused by lost time at work and excessive amounts of petrol are a major concern. Not so much for the money itself, but the constant, daily struggle and sacrifices, minor and major, we have all had to make to keep us going.
And yet.. there has been so much good come from this also. The reassessment of all our lives has been positive, cutting loose much of the baggage we have clung to through habit, realising how little material possessions actually mean in face of a greater, truer reality. Young people sliding down a slippery path have pulled themselves up short in a way that parents have not been able to show them.
New friendships have been born and flourish, based on real emotion, not the makeshift ‘surfaces’ that many of us deal with day after day. Hearts that have been closed have been opened, faith has been questioned, born or reaffirmed.
The power of this single moment of madness to change lives is immense. The power of the concerted efforts of so many people and the faith that has not lost hope is humbling to see and to be touched by.
Twice now in my life I have watched my son take his first breath. The second time was no less a birth than the first and heralded a new beginning for so many of us. Twice I have held my own breath as I watched my son take his first steps.. the second time a moment of overwhelming joy and gratitude.
We wander through life, even those of us who think we live in awareness, taking so much for granted. Even though I am exhausted, there is so much joy in every moment now! Every dawn needs appreciating, every raindrop holds a rainbow, each silent moment holds a peace that is precious and laughter shared is a gift from the gods.
I would give anything to be able to change what happened, to protect my son from this terrible injury… yet, we are sent what we need, not what we want, and I can see so much good in this that I cannot help but be grateful that the Powers that Be are wiser than we.”
Now, eight years later, the ripples still spread in all directions. The mental and emotion damage, the invisible consequences of the attack, still cloud and mire the daily lives of many of the victims of this madness. For Nick was not the only victim of this attack. There is never only one victim. And healing does not mean it all goes away.
Something like this has consequences that reach out like fingers of frost, creeping quietly into the lives of all those who are touched by it. Not just Nick’s immediate family and friends, but also, I imagine, the family of the young man responsible for this. There is still pain, heartache and loss. Physical health has been damaged and compromised. The struggles do not abate on a practical level, treasured relationships have fractured and broken under the strain, sacrifices are still made daily. The future holds no certainties, no security and cannot be planned for.
Yet the consequences are not all negative and the ripples do not carry only pain. For me these years have been a time of self-discovery. The changes may not be visible to the naked eye, but they are real and have reshaped my knowledge of myself in unexpected ways. There are still moments when echoes of PTSD drag me back into the horror, but that was then, this is now… and the future is ours for the writing
The son who watched over his brother with such tenderness is now enslaved by another love… for a beautiful and mischievous blonde. I watch him still, though now I do so with a smile in my heart as I see him find joy in fatherhood.
For Nick, the past eight years have been a real and constant challenge against the injuries, seen and unseen, of a changed world. It has not been an easy road, but he has faced it with a determination to make it his own, learning to accept what could not be changed, yet refusing to accept the imposed limitations. From the early days after the attack, he came to refer to its date as his re-birthday.
For a good while now, he has been drawing together the threads that were woven to shape a new vision… a new and powerful reality where the story is one of his own creating. Plans have been set in motion, and the world opens before him.
Whatever hand we are dealt by destiny, how we play our cards remains a choice we can all make for ourselves. I have a feeling the year will be one of adventure.
Happy re-birthday, Nick.