Empty rooms the shrines for those who never came home

It’s the empty beds that will hurt the most.

You pass by them and you hope that once again they will be filled, that there will be a shape under the duvet, a shock of darkness on the pillow. A shape that doesn’t move in the morning time when it is time for school.

Each time you see the empty beds, you are reminded that here they lay, safe; here they incubated in the decade or so before they were exposed to the greater world, to the dangers that lay outside, to the many, many, wonders that lay outside.

Here, in the bedroom, under the posters of their idols on the walls, under the watchful eyes of the likes of Cardi B and Ariana Grande and Lady Gaga, they form the opinions that make them appreciate music, song, stardom, attraction, love and heartbreak. On those walls their posters act as a window to a great world that is theirs for the taking.

Here they shape their own view of the world.

Here, they are safe.

And here, long after they are gone, is where they will be most missed.

Bedrooms remain shrines to people who leave long before they should. It is as if they are frozen in time, the likes and dislikes of the former occupants shaping the layout of the room, more than any other.

In three bedrooms across the North of Ireland this time last week, teenagers were planning excitedly at the thought of Sunday night, of the St Patrick’s Night disco.

For the duration of the long holiday weekend, every hour will have been counted down, the outfit chosen, the texts exchanged with friends.

And for the parents and adults who watched on enviously at the innocence and purity of youth, there was the all too-fleeting excitement of seeing their young child learn the maxim that anticipation is half the pleasure in the build up to an event like this.

But now those rooms are empty, permanent shrines to what might have been. Memorials to those who never got the chance to live beyond this week.

We all accept the chance of death. Every time we drive, we accept that something may plough into us. Or us into something else. Every time we fly, we accept there is a chance we won’t make a destination. Small chances, but still they are a chance we take.

In an adult world, there are many ways to lose your life, as we tend to populate those areas where death is more frequent, the roadways, the waterways, the skyways, the hospital wards.

But then there are many places where we feel secure, in our homes, our beds.

In a child’s world, the dangers to mortality normally exist on roadways and in waterways and in freakish accidents.

Not at discos. Or places of prayer. These should be places of enjoyment and meditation. Places to fill and fuel the soul.

When I think of the afterglow of the passing of a child, I am transported to that quiet house in Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones and an intensely moving passage which encapsulates the atmosphere of a house after its children have grown and left. It is as if the soul of the house has been hoovered out and what is left is a void within a space made for many, but now occupied by just one or two. It is feeling that many of you have experienced as your own children have grown up and left, the end of a slow metamorphosis of your home becoming just a house again, its four walls no substitute for the noise, the bustle, the drama.

The rooms they leave behind are a perpetuation of your agony, the markings on the walls of their increasing heights scribbled in a place where you are reluctant to paint over, lest it hasten the day they depart or hasten the day they cease being children, your children.

Their rooms are a monument to the drama they brought to your lives, and now these rooms are just a stage where, with props and set intact, the actors have exited and you are left there to stare at it, and wonder what happened and where the years have gone.

This morning, there are parents in Northern Ireland and in Christchurch who can’t bear to look at those bedrooms. Who walk past them hoping everything was a terrible dream. For them, life is changed utterly, forever.


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