Three of my school friends died in ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, two blown up in a land mine attack close to the border, ‘bandit country’ as we called it, and my closest friend at school, Glen, was shot at close range in Belfast one evening. It seems he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. He had been at work and was returning home about 7pm when a gunman walked up to him and shot him at point blank range.
Glen was killed in what the police and newspapers called a “Sectarian killing” that seemed completely senseless to me, he was a good decent and fair bloke, he worked as a Policeman, in the RUC, practically the only job going in Northern Ireland at the time, he went to church every Sunday, he didn’t drink or smoke, he had a Police dog and was engaged to be married to a very sweet girl, I would trust him with my life.
I knew his mother well and met her again at Glens funeral, she didn’t cry, you see Glens mother was real old school, she came from a time when showing emotions was looked on the same as showing weakness. We Irish tend to think of the English as being stiff-upper-lipped, but if the Irish took a real hard look at themselves I believe we would see what we are even more stiff-upper-lipped than any nation for many families here have went through, been through, the living personal hell that the “Troubles” was to so many, yet you would not see it on the faces of many of the survivors for their pain is not for public viewing, their pain they keep inside and behind closed doors, after all that was the Protestant thing to do, wasn’t it?
The car in which we were taken to the church was a big black one, I remember clearly thinking about just how clean and how new the car had looked and at one point I even remember wondering if this car belonged to God. Funny how the mind works in times of grief. I sat with Glens mother in the church, on the front row, which scared me a little as it seemed we were being watched by everyone, even when the minister was speaking he seemed never to take him eyes from us. Perhaps that is way I can’t recall any of the things that were said that day by him or by any of the people who stood on the alter or at Glen’s graveside. It was only at the graveside that it seemed permissible to cry. I am envious of those cultures in the Mediterranean and Persian country that are able to express their grief openly and even forcibly, I think that attitude’s much healthier.
Glens father had died of a heart attack a few years earlier and now his mother was at home alone with the dog. People of course rallied around for the few days, for it appeared that people felt sorry for her but also felt what she needed to be left alone to deal with the lose, for as each week went by less and less people called to the house and she appeared to go out less and less.
We noticed that Glens mother was not too well, for it was clear even to us 20 yr olds that she was not herself as she lay on the sofa more and more and apart from doing the things needed done like clothes washed and food cooked and house being cleaned, she didn’t do much else but sat or lay on the sofa looking at photo albums.
It would take me years I suppose to fully understand that Glens mother had become a little dead inside when he had been killed. I was twenty and sensitive to her feelings, she was a regular customer at the shop I managed and I always made an effort to engage with her but as the weeks and months passed she came to the supermarket less frequently..
There is no doubt now that she never ever really got over his death, for it is clear that she suffered deeply from depression from the time of his murder. She became more withdrawn with each passing day, not just within herself but even in many ways from the rest of the world. Family and friends who were no doubt willing, if maybe not completely able, to help, had been drove away little by little as she closed down.
Eventually she was found at home, dead.
No-one knows the medical reason for why or how she died but everyone knew it was from a broken heart, the two loves of her life had left her and she simply wanted to be with them.
Her death wasn’t reported in the Belfast Telegraph and wasn’t condemned by the politicians on the six o’clock news but without a doubt she was a victim of a “Sectarian killing” just as much as Glen was.