A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
Having spent the last three years writing about grief since the death of my wife in 2012, I tend not to write about things that don’t immediately touch my personal life. Yesterday, however, like many people across the world, I couldn’t fail to be moved by the image of a drowned child washed up on a beach. It seems to have taken such an unapologetically graphic and tragic picture for many of us to see refugees as human beings.
I’ve no idea how other people’s minds work but, personally, I find that there are certain situations that my brain can’t detach from others. No matter which tunnel I drive through, I always think of Diana and Dodi’s deaths. Whenever I see a car speeding, I think of the one the killed my wife. And whenever I hear about anyone drowning at sea, it reminds me of the sinking of the Titanic.
The picture of the child and the image of the once so-called ‘practically unsinkable’ ship plagued my thoughts late last night. It’s easy to get carried away with some of the mythology featured in the Oscar-winning movie centred around the sea disaster, so I did a little homework on it before I went to bed in an attempt to establish the facts; I was struck by parallels between the two tragedies.
RMS Titanic was capable of carrying sixty-four lifeboats – a total well over the Titanic’s maximum capacity of 3,547 people.
Most nations in Europe (and nations outside of Europe for that matter) are also capable of ‘carrying’ more refugees.
The ship’s chief designer originally planned for forty-eight lifeboats, but the number was reduced to make the decks look less cluttered.
We aesthetically minded Europeans just can’t bear the look of those refugee camps that are saving lives, can we?
The final number of lifeboats actually carried aboard was just twenty: two wooden cutters with the capacity for forty people each; fourteen thirty-foot wooden lifeboats each able to carry sixty-five people; four folding or ‘collapsible’ lifeboats that could hold forty-seven people each. Remarkably, this was technically legal; the law at that time based the number of lifeboats required on the gross register tonnage of a ship, not her passenger capacity. The lifeboats available could accommodate a total of 1,178 people, which equated to just thirty-three per cent of the ship’s total passengers and crew.
Just like so many people aboard the ship’s ill-fated maiden voyage, the refugees we see on the news every day paid a premium to greedy people who put money and ignorance before safe passage.
The first lifeboat launched, as the icy Atlantic sea began to overwhelm the ship, had the capacity for sixty-five people and yet only took twenty-eight. This is where things get complicated. The film would have us believe that the upper class passengers didn’t want to mingle with the ‘riff-raff’, but others testified that initially passengers were reluctant to leave the ship because they didn’t consider themselves in imminent danger. The point is this, though: only two of the sixteen lifeboats that successfully launched turned to save others from the water around them.
I can’t help but see many of the leaders of European nations sitting in lifeboats dressed for dinner, with their backs to the catastrophe that is unfolding around them. ‘As long as we get through this safely nothing else really matters’, I hear them mutter as string music plays to drown out the sound of the drowning.
The tragedy upon tragedy in the tale of the Titanic is that 472 lifeboat spaces went unused. A real survivor called Jack is quoted as saying, “The partly filled lifeboat standing by about a hundred yards away never came back. Why on Earth they never came back is a mystery. How could any human being fail to heed those cries?”
I bet more tears were shed in cinemas across Europe for the film’s fictitious character, also called Jack, than the children who recently drowned in our seas. Is it really going to take a multi-million dollar movie created a hundred years down the line to make us properly care about what’s happening right now?
Click this link for some practical tips on what we can do to help.