The Hierarchy of Hell.

I think we’re all still reeling from the horrific murder of Jo Cox. I know I haven’t stopped thinking about her and her family all week. Regardless of the political or mental health reason, or both, that led to her death, that woman went to work the other day and didn’t come home. Her life was snatched from her in the most brutal of ways, leaving her young family broken.

When I’ve heard of other people who’ve recently died, I’ve tried to assess it in my own mind. I’ll weigh it up and wonder if their family will be grieving more than we are, and even silently ask myself if they have the right to. There’s a part of me that gets a bit pissed off with people banging on about their father-in-law who was a bit of a miserable old bastard anyway, and who sadly passed “unexpectedly.” Unexfuckingspectedly? Oh, do me a favour. He was 87 and smoked and drank all his life, I chunner to myself. Get a grip. My kids’ daddy is dead, I think. They’re ten, you’re 56. Get over it, I think.

But, I know these are the irrational thoughts of a grieving woman who’s trying to make sense of her newfound place in the world, even though she doesn’t yet know where that place is. Of course people are entitled to their grief, but actually, yes – there is a hierarchy. There has to be. Sometimes it can be quantified.

When my husband died, we knew it was coming. It was bloody awful, but he did at least know that he could choose where he died, and who he spent his last days with. He saw the people he wanted to see, and wrote some loving letters to the people he didn’t have the strength to face in person. He said what he needed to say, and heard what he needed to hear. Nothing was left unfinished, and we all knew how much we loved each other. He was grateful to have had a comfortable but too-short existence, and appreciated that his end would come in a warm bed, and not on a battlefield or in a refugee camp. He got seriously pissed off with the rolling news coverage when David Bowie died because – although he’d been a lifelong fan – he didn’t see the death of a sixty-something successful bloke as a “tragedy,” any more than he saw his own demise as one. There was far worse shit going on around the world, he said. It’s bad, we don’t want this to be happening, but it could always be worse.

So, when Jo Cox was gunned down and stabbed the other day, for reasons we don’t yet quite know, of course it was a tragedy. Here was a mother – a mother (and we always consoled ourselves with the idea that a child losing a mother is the ultimate tragedy, after a parent losing a child,) whose children would grow up without her. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. Tragically.

When I was 18, one of my best friends was stabbed to death by another friend – his brother-in-law. It happened after a night out, shortly after they’d dropped me home in a taxi and gone back to theirs. The shock of finding out it had happened, and then seeing my darling friend lying lifeless in intensive care – his nose the only identifiable part of his body beneath the tubes – has never left me. I remember screaming. Screaming all the time, for weeks. I would have given anything to have brought him back, to comfort his family, to make everything OK again. It was horrific. I didn’t sleep for months, and I doubt his family did either. I remember those long, desperate nights, unable to breathe because of the sheer shock, and how every year the anniversary of his death threw me into a deep emotional black hole which would take days to climb out of. I ran away to the sun, I came back home, I clung on desperately to an unhappy and controlling relationship, and life was grim for a very long time. Although I have since sought help (with some serious support over the years from my husband,) am generally contented, and now use his anniversary as a day to do something positive – a day I now almost look forward to – not a day goes by when I don’t think about my friend, and remember him. And wish.

Multiply ad infinitum those feelings of shock and desperation, and that’s maybe where Jo Cox’s family are, and the families of anyone whose life is snatched away from them because of someone else’s sheer evil, madness or recklessness. I simply can’t imagine how much more grief it’s possible to bear than that which I endured as a teenager, but my God, it must be so much more painful for them. I only had a friend. Jo Cox’s husband had a wife. Their children had a mother. How much worse can it be than that?

To feel desperately sad that my husband died from cancer is quite understandable. The grief is ever-present, but it’s nothing that can be compared in any way to the shock which follows a murder. Our boys are struggling emotionally, but they had two years to get used to the fact that their daddy might leave them, and to somehow prepare themselves, not that you ever really can. They held his hand as he left us, and promised him they’d be good boys. Jo’s sons probably went to school on Thursday, and before the bell had even sounded for morning break, their mother would have already given them her very last kiss, cuddle and ruffle of the hair.

Is there a hierarchy of hell? Yes. And the Cox family is pretty damned close to the bottom right now, in a place where nobody ever deserves to be. Whatever path our little family’s journey of grief takes us on, Jo Cox’s murder reminds me that we must always be grateful for the chance to have said goodbye, and that one of us simply slipped away quietly, surrounded by love, and at peace.

Love Fanny x

Letter

Part of my husband’s final letter to me – which he wrote about a week before he died. His mind was starting to tire, and he wasn’t sure what to say. I told him he didn’t need to write at all, because he’d said everything already. But, he’d already written to his children, and was determined to do the same for me. I’m so glad he did. Not everyone has this luxury.

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