Last week my family and I attended the fifth session of the annual Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Every week, there’s a different guest speaker and, on this evening, it was Kathleen Chada, the mother of Eoghan and Ruairi Chada, whose husband received two life sentences for the murder of the boys in 2013. Kathleen spoke bravely of her own faith journey in trying to cope with the dreadful tragedy and loss in her life.
Speaking to a hushed church, she explained how she made the conscious decision not to let bitterness and anger eat her up.
I wasn’t long home from the novena when the sad news about the bombing in Manchester started to filter through. As our family sat there in shock, taking in the horror of what had happened, the words of Kathleen Chada came back to me.
It was tough to look at my own little 10-year-old daughter and to think of all the children who headed out excitedly to see Ariana Grande and never came home. My daughter’s a pretty resilient child but I noticed her shocked pale face as she hurried off to bed.
The scenes coming from the Manchester Arena were just too overwhelming with young children like herself running and screaming in total panic. One of the saddest images from that night was the abandoned pink balloons scattered all around the arena, a symbol of carefree childhood years and lost innocence.
People react very differently at times of crisis. Social media exploded, some immediately focusing on providing solidarity and assistance while others viewed the terrible news as a chance to vent or threaten vengeance.
Children are very tuned into what’s going on and, even from a young age, will be listening intently to what we’re saying. In this age of smart phones, tablets and instant news, children are going to hear what’s going on.
If it’s just across the water, the news will definitely filter through. Rather than just trying to pretend that nothing happened, we need to talk to our children.
Child Bereavement UK offer tips to parents who find that they are struggling to support their children after such a frightening occurrence. They tell parents to look out for some common reactions to frightening events.
These may include children having nightmares, getting angry or upset more easily and being clingy or overly nervous about leaving a parent’s side.
After hearing about what happened in Manchester, my youngest daughter kept asking me how far away it was and wanted me to show her the location on a map.
The close proximity of such senseless killing can suddenly make the world seem like a very scary, dangerous place.
There’s an inspirational post that always reappears when yet another traumatic event hits our headlines. It’s attributed to kids’ show host Fred Rogers and says that when he was a boy and saw scary things in the news, his mother would say to him: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Even into adulthood, he was comforted by his mother’s words and by the realisation that, even in the midst of calamitous events, there are so many helpers, so many caring people in the world. Tell your children about these people.
In the wake of the Manchester attack, it was heartening to read of how people rushed to help. As well of stories of great courage where people ignored their own safety to help and comfort the injured and dying, there are great examples from the ordinary people.
The sight of long queues forming outside Manchester’s blood donor centres demonstrated how people wanted to respond positively. Sam Arshad, who owns a taxi company, asked his fleet of drivers to turn off their meters and provide free taxi rides to the families and children who were trying to escape the chaos.
Many city residents offered food and a bed for the night to stranded concert goers: the Twitter hashtag #roomsforManchester was trending.
The hashtag #prayfortheWorld also trended as people of all faiths and religious traditions gathered in Albert Square for a prayer vigil. At the vigil, members of the Manchester Sikh Community provided free refreshments. On social media, thousands shared their messages of hope sharing the message #westandtogether.
Children need to know that, even at the worst of times, there is hope and love. One of the best things to do with children, after we’ve let them talk about their worries and fears, is to pray.
Help them to use their own words to pray for all the people who died and for the grieving families.
At a time when the temptation is to respond with harsh words or to point the finger, prayers should focus on a renewed determination to share the love and mercy of God.
On the same day as the Manchester terror attack, Kathleen Chada ended her testimony with a reflection from Abigail Van Buren. One line says: “Just for today, I will gather the courage to do what is right and take responsibility for my own actions.”
In a time of such sadness and loss, we can gather our families and communities together and give children the message that, in the words of Martin Luther King: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”