SIR PETER BOTTOMLEY: Living with sudden death

The Old Toll Bridge in Shoreham adorned with ribbons after the Shoreham Airshow crash
The Old Toll Bridge in Shoreham adorned with ribbons after the Shoreham Airshow crash

In modern times, many do not face the death of a loved member of their family until late middle years.

Smaller families, better health, improved sickness services and longer lives have made a difference.

Those who are familiar with grief include nurses and doctors, hospital chaplains, journalists and ministers of religion.

When a teenage brother died after a school trip accident, our parents brought in the local vicar to hold a service in our living room.

During part of my father’s overseas service, I had lodged with him, seeing his ministry to the vulnerable, the bereft and the poor in mind, body or spirit.

In my earlier service as member of parliament in Woolwich West, five teenagers died in a tragic car crash.

The initial media reports suggested the influence of alcohol.

Doubting that, I went to the scene and listened to the police.

To make available a nearby place where the victims’ friends could come together in grief, I asked the minister to open the nearest church and to create a roster of people who would care.

It quickly was confirmed that the driver had not been drinking and that there had not been illegal speed.

The details of what had happened no longer mattered much (it had been a combination of events that combined to cause disaster).

What was important was the community response, giving some comfort to the shattered families and to a cohort of youngsters to whom sudden death had been unknown and unanticipated.

Locally Tim Loughton and I as MPs have shared the impact on local households of the Shoreham air crash.

Quietly, with our helpers we try to assist in the range of family tragedies within the constituencies.

Reading and listening to the words of parents after the death of a child or of children can inspire us to be aware of how we can give practical love and offer practical help.

I am not going to give a list.

My experience on both sides of bereavement, being bereft or being a potential helper, is that an open heart rather than an open mouth can make more difference.

I remember being with the father of a murdered teenager.

We would drive around, gently giving him the opportunity to talk about his three children, the living and the dead.

He told me how he was pleased they had the opportunity to see what he did at work.

The children of a church minister get better chances than most to do that.

After my brother’s funeral, my farmer uncle and his wife gave me the chance to come to Shropshire, the county of my birth, to work hard for some days in the fields.

My sisters and I had the example of our brave loving parents.

It does not dull the pain; it can make it possible to appreciate the life we shared and to keep in our hearts and in the family the people we have loved.

Sadly, some Worthing people were killed in a helicopter crash in the Grand Canyon this week.

I send my sympathies to their families, colleagues and loved ones.


Helicopter crash victim was a ‘well respected and loved’ employee


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