Let Berkley families bury their children in peace

When a tragic death occurs, journalists are often excoriated for being heartless ghouls who knock on the doors of the bereaved, intruding on their boundless private grief to titillate and inform the masses.

Thankfully, in most cases, this is far from the truth. Despite having more than our fair share of sociopaths in this line of work, no-one I know enjoys it.

And if it is done with dignity and respect, it can serve a valuable function in the grieving process, as it allows the family a chance not just to express their sorrow, but to put on the record the character of the person they lost.

For many (but by no means all) there is great comfort in a newspaper publishing their name, their photo, the names of their children, how important they were to the community. It affirms their right to grieve, and the right of the community at large to feel their loss.

On the whole, Ireland’s media has, from what I have seen, played a stellar role in reporting the tragic deaths of six young people in Berkley.

The one utterly pathetic example was the Irish Daily Star (and to a lesser extent the Examiner, who used the same picture, although I haven’t sen how it was published), whose front page showed a level of either incompetence or insensitivity any professional journalist or editor would be ashamed of.

Thankfully, the rest made up for it. From the initial news to adding context and colour, as well as the righteous and rightful indignation at the appalling rubbish produced by the New York Times, the tone of the coverage has been about right.

On Friday morning the John Murray Show had songwriter Jimmy McCarthy as a guest, and it was stunning radio.

Interspersed with his magnificent music, John and Jimmy had the conversation that all of Ireland had been having last week – on love and loss, life and death, and how we have no choice but to go on, no matter how little we feel like it.

There have been expressions of sympathy from far and wide, from footballer Bastian Schweinstieger to the Script on the stage at Croke Park, and the painful yet beautiful tale of how Aer Lingus staff did their very best to make the journey as comfortable as possible for the grieving families.

But while all of this is surely welcome, we must be careful not to step over the threshold and intrude on the private grief of the families.

Ireland has lost, but their loss is so much more.

We must allow them to retain ownership of their children’s memories as they bring them home to be buried.

We must listen to them and allow them to decide how and when their children are to be remembered.

We must be ready to listen when they speak of them, and prepared for the moment they decide to be silent.

16 years in Sweden has taught me that grief is very silent here – it is to be borne almost alone, seldom spoken of or shared.

To be honest, I prefer the Irish way – we deal with death as friends, families and communities, and though it will visit us all, we do not fear it as much because we do not face it alone.

So if the families ask for privacy to grieve, let them have it. Put down the cameras, turn off the dictaphones, walk away from the front door.

Because no matter what questions we ask or what pictures we take, nothing will ever capture the loss that they are experiencing.