The importance of a place called home: connection, loss, and hope.
In my patch of the world it’s a beautiful spring day. But for the people of Ukraine things are bleak. A visit to the cemetery where Tim is buried prompted me to think about the importance of geographical connectedness; of winter and spring; and of life and death. I’m sharing my thoughts because I want to capture how I feel.
Readers of He Died Waiting will know that Tim is buried in the village I grew up in. He is surrounded by family members and when I visit the graves I spend a little time with some of my special people.
Recently, I popped over to the cemetery and left some daffodils on the graves. It was a cold and grey day and none of the flowers were in bloom. I came away feeling a bit low. The following day a series of storms leashed their fury on the nation. I suspected that the pots of daffodil bulbs had left had probably blown into the North Sea.
A few days later the Russians invaded Ukraine and the news has been heart-breaking since. I find myself crying at women carrying toddlers through the snow to safety or older people struggling to physically manage alone. Millions have had to leave everything behind. I cannot even begin to conceptualise the fear, despair, and physical discomfort those who leave or cannot flee are enduring. Our government response has been woeful. I feel such a sense of shame at all the barriers that have been put in place. Bureaucracy that is designed to be the anthesis of humanitarianism. Sometimes, winter seems so long and so brutal. It can be hard to imagine the sun ever shining.
I don’t live in the village any more but I usually post my books from the corner shop there. I still refer to the ‘Bob shop’ even though it stopped being that decades ago. It’s convenient and it gives me a sense of connection between Tim and the work I do now (delivering workshops based on his story). I park my car where I once used to stand with Tim and my other children waiting for the school bus. It’s next to the village sign I remember being erected when I was at school. The village is the place I call ‘home’. I have a strong geographical connection to it and the surrounding area. I have moved away but always come back. This is where I belong.
Having exchanged some cheery ‘what a lovely day, it gladdens my heart’ pleasantries, I headed off to check on Tim. I’m his mum so I will always feel that need. I was in a reflective mood and I drove past the bungalow I grew up in; the house where my youngest two were born; Nanny and Grandad's bungalow; the church wall I remembered sitting on with friends in the 1970s; and the church where many of our family christenings, weddings and funerals have taken place. This medieval building that has borne witness to the natural order of life and community for centuries. The village hall is near the cemetery. I used to go to discos there as a teenager. It’s where I enjoyed my first kiss. When my children were small, I ran a youth club there. I have so many happy memories associated with the people and the buildings in the village.
The little cemetery has rough ground, no paths, and is surrounded by trees. In bad weather it veers from muddy to downright treacherous. But today a gentle breeze was rustling through the trees, the birds were singing and I went for a little wander. So many people I have known have been respectfully laid to rest in this peaceful spot. Tim is not the only one of his generation there. Two of his youth club friends died in childhood. Crocuses were bursting their cheeky heads on one of these graves. Stubbornly bringing cheer.
What I noticed today is how many of my parent’s generation have died recently. People I remember as being my age, have grown old and been buried in this tranquil place. When I die this is where I want to spend eternity. the village is a place that I have strong connections to, surrounded by family, friends, and neighbours from throughout my lifetime.
All of a sudden, I was overwhelmed with a deep sense of empathy for refugees and people fleeing war. What must it be like to be forced to leave your country and community? To be thrust into the uncertainty, and often hostility, that refugees face? This time two weeks ago, the Ukranians were living lives just like ours. They had homes, jobs, food, water, sanitation, electricity, heating, and possessions. They were safe.
I think it is easier for white people to relate to what this must be like because we see them as ‘people like us’. The reality is that refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, African countries, and around the world are people like us too. They too will have a sense of geographical and cultural connection to the places they call home. Sadly, the colour of their skin often means some refugees are much less welcome in the countries they seek sanctuary in. Racism is a pervasive and disgusting thing. My beloved granddaughter is half Nigerian. It horrifies me to think that if my family ever needed to flee that she could be excluded because of her heritage. It’s unconscionable.
I thought about the huge numbers who have died, or who will die, in horrific circumstances during this war. Each of those will have networks of people who loved them. So many bereaved and traumatised people. Not for them the time-honoured rituals of funerals conducted with dignity. Mass graves are being dug. No ceremony for the people who are grieving. No grave in a peaceful spot to lay flowers or shed a tear.
People fleeing war zones are experiencing multiple traumas and grief. What they need is to feel safe. We feel safest within healthy relationships. We need the love and support of people who know and understand us when we are grieving too. The delays caused by the chaotic and off-putting visa systems to enter the UK are delaying people finding their safety. It is preventing people from entering the embrace of connecting with family and friends. Frankly, it is cruel because it adds to the trauma.
Despite the storms the daffodils on the graves had bloomed. Bright yellow against a blue sky. A reminder that life and death is cyclical. It throws our existential security when things break that natural order but even the worst of times will pass. From the coldest, darkest places flowers will grow.
How then can we find hope? How can we hold onto faith that the sun will shine on these people again? Our hope lays in our compassion for others. The amazing responses from across Europe where people have opened their homes and hearts bears testimony to people’s goodness. The hugs and kindness of strangers and the mountains of donations. Throughout millennia humans have slaughtered each other. Yet humanity rises above these things. Our hope lies in each other. In our tears for the lost and the hurting, and in our everyday (and sometimes extraordinary) actions. In our humanity and our love for fellow humans. I’m holding on to love.