When you walk through a storm
hold your head up high
and don't be afraid of the dark
I hope you will forgive me as I side-step depression this week to talk about another universal emotion, grief. Grief and depression is not the same thing, although some of the feelings within both can crossover.
There are five common stages of grief:
Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance
These are common but there is no blue print to the emotions we feel as we grieve the loss of a loved one. We may not experience all of the stages, we may find we flit between them all in a day, we may find that the order is wrong, and we may find ourselves languishing in one state for a long time.
Imagine if you will, that you have lost a husband, a child, a brother, a son, a daughter or an aunt. Imagine then that as you work through the shock of this person’s loss, you find people saying things about them that are untrue, imagine opening a newspaper and hearing stories that insinuate they deserved their death.
What stage of grief is that?
It could be denial; this isn't happening, surely no one believes this? But they do because they are being told it by an authority paid to protect them from the likes of society that your dead loved one is now associated with, and the newspaper that champions the working class football fan is the very paper telling them that your loved one was scum.
Would you then feel anger? Anger at this betrayal of their memory, anger at your own helplessness in the face of this swarm of untruths, anger at the very people you trusted to keep you safe. Oh you would feel anger, you would feel anger every time you thought about them, you would feel anger as you watched the news, read the papers, saw the story fade into obscurity with people believing the lie that they've been told. The anger would be very real.
But whom can you bargain with now? God? "Please help them see this isn't true?" you pray. Years pass and still the lie is upheld, God seemingly has no power here. If even God has no power against the words of an earth bound authority, then what hope have you? Who can you bargain with? How can you stop this lie? How can you move on when the Nation thinks your loved one deserved to die? How can you accept that anyone, drunk or otherwise would have deserved to die? How can you accept that it is ever okay to lay blame on the victim of a crime? Her skirt was too short, she was wasted, she had been flirting all night, and everyone knows she is a slut. The blaming of female victims is so commonplace we barely even notice it. It happens because the power is skewed by the patriarchal society we still live in. So too the blaming of the poor, the migrants, the people on benefits, alcoholics happens because the power is skewed out of their favour.
Imagine a bad day, whatever that would be for you, a bad day at work, a fight with a loved one, a day spent at hospital as your veins are pumped with chemicals to fight the cancer eating at your organs, finding a needle under your sons bed, being betrayed, learning of an affair, or simply that you broke an ornament that was beloved, how do you respond? What do you do to comfort yourself? Do you come home from work stressed and angry and open a bottle of wine, maybe two, do you sit and eat chocolate in front of the TV, do you cry to a friend? Imagine that bad day, whatever it is, imagine it happening every day, for a week, a month, a year, two years, like Groundhog Day over and over. What is your response? Do you drink the wine every day? Eat the cakes? Is all of it your fault? Say you drink the wine; imagine you drink it every day because this bad day happens every day, each day you drink a little more, because each day feels heavier and heavier. The drinking starts to affect your concentration, you start to rely on it, the people around you start to get angry, you are drunk more than you are sober, the bad day you keep having is now added to by the fact that the thing you turned to, to help comfort you is hurting you too, but you can't stop doing it, you can't cope with the constant onslaught. Is it your fault? Do you deserve everything you get?
Congratulations, you now find yourself amongst the members of society where the power is skewed against them. Before you even get a chance to explain why you have got into this mess you are judged and dismissed. You are guilty unless proven otherwise, but how do you prove yourself otherwise when no one will listen to a drunk like you? And so now, in the silence, you start to believe what people say about you, you begin to think you deserve everything you get, because that's what everyone else thinks. You don't bargain with anyone, instead you accept this worldview and you treat yourself with the disdain that is your due, you drink yourself to oblivion, to death, because that is what is expected of you.
This is true if your comfort of choice is food, either the eating of it or the not eating of it. In your health crisis, your self-comfort that turns to self-hate, you are invisible, you are shameful, you are something society turns an eye from.
But I digress in order to show how control and power can easily be lost, we don't believe it can ever happen to us, but it can, in moments. In can happen because our loved one has been killed whilst watching a football game, it can happen because the football team they support represents a city that is poorer than most. It can happen because the media tells us that the poor and vulnerable in our society are lazy, idle, and good for nothings, probably drunks and if they happen to be a migrant who is poor, scrounging terrorists, probably. It can happen even though the fans that were watching and the fans that died were from all walks of life and even children. They found themselves in a narrative that held more weight than the value of their lives. It doesn't matter who you were or what you did in your life (or didn’t get to do in the case of the children who died), if you were there that day you were drunk and violent and you deserved it, simply because the Police said so, simply because the Police knew they would be believed over football fans who supported Liverpool.
It happened to Liverpool, it could have been any club that day but the blame story would only carry if the football club were from a poor area. But football itself is associated with poverty, the elite in our country (as David Cameron's Aston Villa, no West Ham, no Aston Villa has proved) don't like football, football is a sport for the plebs; the posh boys like Rugby, or Polo, or cricket. If the 96 Liverpool fans had been Rugby fans, this story would not have been possible. It was possible because the poor deserve everything they get and if you happen to get lumped in with them, even for a moment, even as you die, crushed against a railing; then you cease to be human as your body collapses beneath you. With your last breath, your humanity is exhaled.
So here your family finds themselves, in shock and quickly anger and disbelief, without the power to bargain, surely next comes depression; the plunge into the pointlessness of life, the hopelessness of your situation, the deadening of the desire to keep going. But as you plunge into the depth of your despair something happens, a voice nags at you. I can't let this ‘truth’ win. I can't let my loved one be dismissed as a person who deserved to die; who did it to themselves who isn't human. I can't, I can't, I can't.
And so you gather your strength and my goodness it takes a lot of strength, and you walk out of your front door and you stand up and you say, "This is a lie." And you repeat those words, over and over and over and over and over again. You repeat them as people turn their face away, you repeat them as the authorities turn a blind eye, you repeat them as you are accused of being in denial, you repeat them, over and over and over again, you repeat them until the noise gets too loud, you repeat them until it becomes embarrassing for people to keep ignoring you, you repeat them alongside the other families, the fans, the people of your city, even the rival football fans, you repeat them until the words are heard. You repeat them until the words are heard in a court that matters, you repeat them as the people who lied are stood before you, lying still, you repeat them until every single person in the Nation has heard your words and until every single person in the country now believes your word over theirs. You repeat them until your voice runs coarse and your tears have run dry. You repeat them until your words carry a weight. You repeat them until your words are accepted.
You repeat them until the person you loved is a human again, a person who loved, was loved, knew joy, knew pain, a person who went in excitement to watch a team they loved, play a game they loved, in a tournament they loved, a person who found themselves crushed till they couldn't breath, a person whose body broke as vomit was forced through their mouth and as their eyes almost broke through their head as the life was squeezed out of them, as Police officers stood and did nothing. As people behind them were ushered in to crush them further, as a football game started before them, a human who died on a day that wasn't meant for them, a human who did nothing wrong. A human.
So where are you in your grief now? What stage comes next? Do you finally have acceptance? Can you ever accept that it happened? Can you ever accept that not only did it happen people said it didn't happen? People left you alone; can you ever accept that? So what next? Anger? Depression? What next for you? The family members who have fought and fought through their grief to find justice in tragedy? What now?
What victory is this when death looms over it? When lies and pain and fights and despair and silence loom over it? What victory when the paper you have long since rejected, continues to reject you? What next when other football fans continue to read the paper that holds you in contempt? What next when it doesn't matter that they don't care, still, about the damage they did to you and seemingly, neither do the people who continue to pay for a paper that doesn't just hate Liverpool, but hates everyone who reads it. A paper that markets itself to the poor, the working class, the football fans that Politicians wouldn't mingle with, the paper that pretends to be one of you whilst laughing in your face. The paper that tells you that because you don't have access to the education of the elite that you need to be told your news in a sensationalist manor, the paper that tells you, you're such an animalistic man that you need boobs with your morning coffee otherwise you probably wouldn't even read the news, a paper that tells you who you should vote for because you can't decide for yourself, a paper that tells you football is the greatest game but holds it's fans in contempt; hooligans, scum, drunks.
There is no victory in death, there is no victory in grief but there is victory in being heard when all the odds were stacked against you, there is victory in being the voice that breaks through the power barrier, there is victory in making the silent be heard. Let us not accept this balance of power, let us not allow victims to be blamed, let us not buy papers that insult us, let us not let Politician's tell us what we are worth and let us not ever, ever forget, that the balance of power can always be skewed from our favour in just a moment. Don't let the power take from others what you wouldn't want to be taken from you.
We are all human, even the Policemen who lied, even the Editor who wouldn't give the front page to a tragedy their paper perpetrated, even the drunk on the corner, the homeless man that you passed this morning, the Junior Doctor who cares about his job, we are all human. Some of us are cowards, some of us have strength we cannot know until it is called upon and some of us have had bad day, after bad day, after bad day but we are all human.
Don't let a newspaper tell us otherwise, don't let a force of power tell us otherwise and don't forget that it could have been you; it could have been your brother, your child, your parent. It could be 3000 migrant children now in danger of trafficking, children who we might read about in five years time as we let another Rotherham happen in the silence that comes when we forget the horrors we've witnessed.
It could have been any one of us, and if we let it, it will happen again, and again, and again, to those we allow to be silenced.