11/10/202 Mourners, family and friends walk behind the hearse as it leaves the village after the funeral of Jessica Gallagher, one of those killed when a explosion happened at the Apple Green Garage. Eamonn Farrell

Therapist A reflection on Creeslough and the grief of a community

Mary Spring looks at the grief endured by the people of Creeslough after the explosion.

THE WHOLE COUNTRY of Ireland has been mourning the recent tragic loss of lives in Creeslough. Yet, though national and international news media have extensively covered the tragedy and the subsequent prayer vigils and funerals, most of us are onlookers.

It is the people of Creeslough and its surrounding areas who acutely and achingly grieve the deaths of 10 people. Their loss, the inescapable companion of bereavement, is profound. That loss, sudden and traumatic, is immensely personal. Their lives are forever changed.

The air has been heavy with grief. A community has been devastated. Couples, families, neighbourhoods, schools, sports clubs, churches and local organisations have been wounded by a devastating gas explosion at Creeslough’s local service station and shop. The safe lull of predictability has given way to trauma.

Understanding grief

After tragic events like these, personal safety is eroded and mortality speaks so very loudly. Yet in these rawest of times, a deeply-felt sense of togetherness and support shines through. Feeling devastating groundlessness, people reach out to each other. People hold each other. People need each other. The community of Creeslough have demonstrated this togetherness so well.

By now, the film crews and cameras will have turned away from Creeslough and the community will have been left to grieve more privately and, in some ways, more silently and often more loudly. In their grief, the people of Creeslough and the surrounding areas will live in the very near shadows of their losses.

People will not be forgotten. A place will always acutely remind them of their loved ones. Colours, smells, sights, sounds and imaginings will evoke reactions and feelings. Vacant spaces in people’s homes will awaken emotions. Birthdays and Christmasses and anniversaries, among other times, will stir deep responses.

The old models of grief that were espoused by Sigmund Freud and John Bowlby encouraged a linear-type movement which ultimately enabled the mourner to “let go” of the deceased.

Thankfully, such models are no longer understood to be the norm. Newer paradigms support continuing bonds with the person who has died, bonds that acknowledge the irreversible nature of their loss yet also honours relationship and memory. Here the often-uneven rhythm and movement in loss is recognised. Social connection is encouraged as is the telling and retelling of story.

This process will be unique to each person and will be a journey of the heart, the mind, the body and the soul. In the midst of control, certainty and meaning being jarringly fragmented, a myriad of emotions may ask for release and validation.

Robbed of lives, feelings of sadness, numbness, disbelief, exhaustion, regret, anxiety, fear, fragility, loneliness, bodily pain, tension, helplessness, hopelessness, heaviness and aching absence may be felt by the grieving other.

Grief will not necessarily come to a tidy conclusion. One dearly hopes however that the community of Creeslough will not be forgotten but be meaningfully and gently supported. One also hopes that over time, and time will be different for each person, the jagged intensity and fierce tidal movement of their pain-filled emotions will ease.

Many miles away from Creeslough, people continue to be unsettled by this tragedy. We talk in hushed and saddened tones. Often immune to tragedies that happen in the world, we have been stopped in our tracks by this horrific event which has occurred here in Ireland.

Visceral reactions

The uncertainties and hypervigilance, as seen during the Covid epidemic can sometimes surface again at a time of trauma like this. The amygdala that lies deep in the limbic unconscious brain is often activated in us.

Some of us are troubled by images of the devastating scene in Creeslough as caught on camera and as also seen in our imagination. Pulling into a garage and refuelling the car has frightened others.

As I write this piece, it’s a week after the last of the funerals in Donegal. I think that perhaps Creeslough is a tragedy beyond too many words.

So, it feels more appropriate today to merely bow my head in silence in memory of Catherine O’Donnell, James Monaghan, Martina McGill, Jessica Gallagher, James O’Flaherty, Martina Martin, Hugh Kelly, Robert Garwe, Shauna Flanagan Garwe and Leona Harper.

May they forever rest in peace. And may the people of a tiny little village in the northwestern county of Donegal, whose wounding pain is the very winter of the heart, remain in our hearts. May they too find peace.

Mary Spring is an accredited counsellor-psychotherapist with the IACP. She works in private practice in Galway city and is a tutor/lecturer with the International College for Personal and Professional Development (ICPPD) in Athlone and Galway.

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