Coping with death: 10 years on from the Madrid bombings

 

 

 

 

 

Madrid
Today the internet has been awash with reflections and analysis of the 10th anniversary of the Madrid bombings that took the lives of 191 people and injured 1,820 more. The political aftermath in Spain has been analysed, the role of Al-Qaeda examined and the role of ETA dismissed (by most).

And yet, in all the articles I have read, with the exception of a few survivor stories, there has been a dearth of analysis to describe how people are feeling.

Us Brits know only too well that these occasions act as a sombre reflection on the needless and violent loss of life. I write this with confidence because I have seen these sombre reflections echoed on the 7th July in London. I have no doubt that some American friends can say the same for the 11th September in New York.

Being in London on the 7th July is a strange experience as the macabre anniversary intermingles with the vibrant life of the capital. Life bustles on with only the subtle behaviour changes of the living hinting at the loss that families, communities, and the nation experienced.

While life speeds on, a few people will struggle to get out of bed on these anniversaries. For some the weight of their loss will once more sit on their chest as they lay awake and alone next to the shadow of the ghost of a former lover. A few though will be out of bed and on the way into work only to uncharacteristically find themselves lost in thought as they wait at the bus stop thinking back to the awful explosions.

Many more though will go through their day changing their routine only a fraction to be a small part in the wider ritual of loss that is now, for better or for worse, part of their national identity.

This change in the national mindset is like a shard of glass inserted deep into a national psyche. But the rupture that caused this change is not just about a sense of grief or loss, but also vulnerability. This vulnerability can manifest itself in individuals, and especially survivors, in ‘what if thoughts’. What if I hadn’t been running late that day? What if my wife had been working from the office that day? What if…

On days like this, on anniversaries of atrocities, our own mortality sits slightly closer to our hearts and weighs slightly more on our subconscious.

Politicians will talk with bravado about how these attacks will not change us. They will say that they will make us stronger in the face of adversity. But, deep down we know that we are changed. We know that there is now a chink in our personal and collective armour. We know that we have experienced vulnerability and that this has crushed our completely false sense of invincibility.

For some this anniversary will bring flooding back an intense wash of emotion…grief, pain and loss. For many more though it will leave us feeling uncertain, insecure, and vulnerable.

My message then to anyone who is reading this and is today feeling out of sorts is this: it’s OK. It’s not ‘letting the terrorists win’ to feel whatever you’re feeling.

Death, near-death, and collective grief are messy subjects that don’t fit nicely into political rhetoric or motivational clichés. We are what we are – a jumble of thoughts, feelings and emotions that are shaped by our experiences.

Thousands of people across Spain and especially in Madrid experienced something truly awful 10 years ago today. No amount of pressure will squeeze their individual responses into a politically useful box.

This article was cross-published on the International edition of ehospice

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