Life

Lynette Fay: The tragic deaths in Dublin, of Queen Elizabeth and Kim Lenaghan show why communal grieving is vital

Communal grieving offers acknowledgement and validation of feelings which allow us to experience some healing, even if we hadn't met the person...

Lynette Fay

Lynette Fay

Lynette is an award winning presenter and producer, working in television and radio. Hailing from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, she is a weekly columnist with The Irish News.

Abigail Glen (2), from Lisburn, lays flowers at the gates of Hillsborough Castle following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Abigail Glen (2), from Lisburn, lays flowers at the gates of Hillsborough Castle following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire. Abigail Glen (2), from Lisburn, lays flowers at the gates of Hillsborough Castle following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

WE have all grieved for people we had never met.

Every August, Mummy reminds me that, in the summer of 1977, while she was pregnant with me, she cried uncontrollably when she heard that Elvis had died. In turn, I remember the shock I felt when many people I have revered died. Although I had never met these well known people, like so many others, I felt that through their work, I knew them.

Public grief and communal grief have been extremely prevalent over the last few weeks.

This day, two weeks ago, in a very powerful radio moment, RTÉ presenter Ryan Tubridy could barely fight back the tears as he read through the messages he had received that morning, as listeners to his programme reacted to the horrific murders of Christy and Chelsea Cawley and their sister Lisa Cash in Tallaght in south Dublin.

Unsurprisingly, this tragedy got under the skin of the nation, and Ryan's reaction to the overwhelming spontaneous contact from listeners was to scrap the plans he had for that day's programme and give his audience a platform to grieve. It was a heartbreaking, given what had happened, but also heartwarming because so much support and empathy was shown to a family which had been devastated.

Communal grieving offers acknowledgement and validation of feelings which allow us to experience a level of healing. The healing can be freeing, and differs to how we grieve as individuals.

I suppose this is why the Irish wake tradition is so important – it gives the grieving family much needed support, and provides the opportunity for the community to show their solidarity through the grief period.

When something like the Tallaght tragedy happens, I think that we put ourselves in the position of the grief stricken. That sense that this could happen to anyone, to us, intensifies the grief we feel for people we have never met.

Since it was announced on September 8 that Queen Elizabeth II had died, we have seen an extraordinary outpouring of grief for a public figure. Although a very private person, some people felt that they knew her extremely well.

After all, she had been part of the fabric of life here for almost a century, seven decades as monarch.

Thousands have queued to pay their respects and countless floral tributes have been left in public places ahead of today's funeral. The level of the outpouring of grief we have witnessed over the past week or so has been expected. Some might say it is necessary.

The hope can only be that the public expressions of sorrow will provide comfort for the family who, on a human level, have lost their mother, their grandmother. There is a strength, a validation, a purging, that comes with communal grief that is very healthy as a way to process loss – even if you have never met the person.

While watching the rolling coverage of the official mourning period for Queen Elizabeth, myself and my colleagues at Radio Ulster were then propelled into the very real and shocking grief of losing someone we knew well.

Kim Lenaghan had indescribable presence. You always knew when Kim was in the room, in the office. She was so full of life and I admired how she completely lived life to the full.

Every time I saw her, she had an an amazing story to tell about an amazing experience. She was a strong woman who knew her own mind, a gifted broadcaster, storyteller and people were drawn to her.

I had last seen Kim only days before her sudden death. I remarked that she was in flying form - bubbly, interested and working the room like the social butterfly she was. It feels strange and wrong to refer to her in the past tense, such was her joie de vivre.

As the news of Kim's death was announced on the midday news bulletin, colleagues gravitated to the Radio Ulster office, to seek that validation from each other for the shock and grief they were feeling.

Through the shock, the stories and memories flowed, and it was cathartic. We needed to group together to process what had just happened. It's the most natural thing to do.

It will take an awful long time to believe or come to terms with the fact that she is gone. She was taken much too soon. My thoughts are with her husband and close friends who are coming to terms with an immeasurable loss. A bright, shining light has gone out.