Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

drowned world

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?

We can all do something. We can donate, sign petitions and we can make our voices heard. Let’s just not allow ourselves to fictionalise facts for the sake of our own comfort.

Click this link for some practical tips on what we can do to help.

7 comments on “drowned world

  1. Dean B
    September 3, 2015

    I can’t look at this image. But perhaps, we all should look at this photograph no matter how heartbreaking it is for all of us. That we all should be reminded not to look away, or pretend it isn’t happening. That life goes on in our little bubble without hundreds, thousands are drowning every day. You are so right when you wrote “We can all do something. We can donate, sign petitions and we can make our voices heard. Let’s just not allow ourselves to fictionalise facts for the sake of our own comfort”.

  2. Dorothy Schwarz
    September 3, 2015

    That post resonated with me. After er 15 years the grief hurts as much as day one. But not all the time and more and more rarely. Qhat it does do when someone dies too young is take the gloss off anniversary and milestones. But one learns to cope. Lots of love to you both Dot

  3. Luci Locket
    September 3, 2015

    Yes, we must open our hearts and minds……and Europe must act.

  4. Bowhaus
    September 3, 2015

    Well said. I live in Germany, where despite there being plenty of right-wing nationalist groups, many, many more people are helping refugees; neighbourhoods, groups and individuals collect donations of the things that are needed (lists are provided every day), and many, many people greet refugees with open arms and warmth and understanding that they have been through hell and had to leave their homes. There is humanity being shown on many levels, but governments need to work together and share their space and resources. Individuals and groups can add voluntary help on top of this. Most people want to help others, and the refugees who are moving in such dangerous and illegal conditions need safety and security. There’s a new website here for people to offer rooms in their homes (so families and individuals have a chance to live a more normal existence than living in a camp), help with language, bureaucracy, schools, buddying, etc. Other places provide food and people to cook and serve it. There are so many things people can do to help. I do fear a backlash from the right as so many people are heading to Germany (Cameron should be ashamed of himself for his recent comments). Every democratic country needs to share this responsibility fairly. The photograph of the little boy who died today should act as a catalyst to bring about change, help and support. The numbers of deaths of people on their journeys away from already terrifying and terrible conditions is something that should NEVER happen. Those who are responsible must be found and made to take responsibility. Set up local groups, join existing groups and do what you can to help. I haven’t looked at the link above yet, but thank you Ben for sharing this on your wide platform.

  5. Jan Wilberg
    September 3, 2015

    Your analogy about the Titanic’s lifeboats is so exactly right. It is the way we need to look at this great human need.

  6. handikwani02
    September 4, 2015

    Well articulated Ben, my own struggle is about leaders who seem to have an obsession about how difficult it can be to ‘fit’ in extra people from the ‘trouble nations’ all I can say as a migrant myself is- it is hard to see another human being suffering the way Syrians are suffering. I grew up with a mum who always instilled in us children that in the event of a need houses can stretch. I still recall during our own political troubles in my native land for two weeks my mother housed twenty two other people in our two bedroomed council house for two weeks because she could not bear to see a human being suffer. That three year boy and his family are human beings we can not turn a blind eye to such tragedy.

  7. victoriawhyte
    September 6, 2015

    Very well worded Ben. Thank you for addressing this issue.

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