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April 21, 2015

Losing a child


April 21, 2015


A long, long time ago my 17-year-old sister died a sudden death. My mother survived her by nearly 36 years. During those three decades she never spoke of her lost child and would assiduously erase all memories through different ways. For instance, no photographs of my sister were ever displayed in the house again.
But the memory that stands out most clearly in my mind is that my mother religiously avoided visiting the hospital where my sister breathed her last even when a close friend or relative was admitted there. She did so for nearly two decades.
Then one of her grandchildren was born there and she picked the courage to go visit the hospital. For a moment perhaps, the joy of holding a living child took precedence over the loss of burying a dead one. I can never forget her posture as she entered the hospital premises. She kept her head bowed and her eyes were glued to the ground; she just could not bear to look at the building.
The moment is etched in my memory as one of the most poignant I have ever had to live with. Throughout my life I have felt that there was a barrier no one could ever cross; no one could ever fathom the depths of my mother’s grief.
I was forced to think of her again today when casually browsing through the morning paper I chanced upon the news item: ‘Parents of APS children demand judicial inquiry’ to determine the negligence of those responsible for providing security to the school.
Their pain leaped through the pages to strike my heart like a lash. I wondered how many parents of those unfortunate youngsters have lost the ability to verbalise their pain. How many mothers will never have the courage to look at the APS building again?
I don’t think there is any grief more powerful than the loss of a child and it is especially brutal when the loss is inexplicably sudden. It is invariably accompanied by irrational feelings of regret and guilt. If only I was there to protect my child….if only I hadn’t sent him

to school that day…if only I hadn’t scolded him just before he left for school…if only…
We all have our own ways of coping with bereavement. Some parents of the APS martyrs will perhaps go through life trying to avoid things associated with their lost loved ones, like my mother did. But, unlike her, many others, like the members of Ghazi and Shuhada Forum, will try to grieve by joining hands to vociferously shout together and to silently weep together.
There are those who are too numb to react and there are those who have galvanised into action to demand justice. Make no mistake, all of them are trying to mend broken hearts, all the time afraid that their loss will be forgotten by the rest of us as time moves on.
There is absolutely no excuse for not exposing and punishing those responsible for any negligence. The persons responsible for APS security– whether military or civilian – must be brought to justice immediately.
If bereavement is underpinned with feelings of injustice life becomes unbearable. This brand of grief knows no closure; but bringing the guilty to justice may provide an opportunity for catharsis that could gradually nudge the parents towards acceptance.
The parents, according to the news item, have demanded that the government construct a monument to commemorate the sacrifice of their children. And why not? There is a Shuhada monument in the GHQ where the powerful from within and outside the country come to pay their respects, to salute the martyrs, to befittingly honour our military heroes who paid the ultimate price to purchase our lives and the lives of our children.
The sacrifice of thousands of unknown civilians who have also paid the ultimate price for being Pakistanis must not go unrecognised either. Let the government acknowledge their sacrifice; let the name of each one of them be written in gold on a monument in Islamabad…. Perhaps close to one of the metro stations?
One cannot be insensitive enough to compare one innocent death with another; they are all tragic. The APS tragedy has nonetheless resonated with us in a different way, perhaps because it is a culminating point of all that this hapless nation has had to needlessly suffer since 9/11.
Let there be a monument erected in the heart of Peshawar to honour our APS children. Such a monument is all the more necessary so people like myself, who have never lost a child, can visit, offer hushed prayers and stand in respectful silence, fully aware that we can never fathom the depths of what the parents felt on the day their children failed to come home. And who will continue to relive that awful moment every day for the rest of their lives.
At the moment the parents of APS martyrs are caught in a time-loop. They need our sustained attention. Above all, they need the attention of relevant civilian and military authorities to provide every possible respite to help the shattered and the stranded feel just a bit more connected with themselves and the moving world outside.
The loss of a child means that a fundamental part of the parents dies with their loved one; nothing is ever the same for them. And until they find justice their predicament is perhaps reflected in a few lines I wrote for my mother all those years ago:
With bated breath, I wait/Suspended between/Hope and Despair/Grace and Prayer/Sky and Earth/Trapped between/Death and Rebirth
The writer is a post-doctoral researcher at Birmingham University.
Email: [email protected]




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