Out of darkness, a light beckons

On Tuesday evening, as I left the office and was making my way to the car, I spotted a couple. Obviously tourists because they were holding hands with that foreign great hair look about them, with colourful jackets and a bearing that made them stand apart from the Irish, but blend in with the hundreds of visitors on the street at that time.

Like other tourists they were finding wonder in the things of the city that we take for granted. They pointed at things and studied them with great interest. They walked along the streets with an ease and familiarity that contradicted my perception that they were first time visitors to our place.

And when they turned towards me on the footpath I recognised them — and the joy I had just experienced at seeing someone share the magic of our city, soon dissipated into a great sorrow in my heart.

They would not know me or how I was feeling at that moment, but the sight of them stirred an emotion especially as I was heading home to tuck my young daughter into bed, read her a story, wonder at her innocence as she lay her head down for another dream-filled night of slumber, and suppress fears about when she will head out into the world to pursue her dreams.

Hans Peter and Arlette Riedo are now annual visitors to our city, their trip a pilgrimage to pay their respects to their daughter whose death was one of this city's darkest episodes. Their attendance on her anniversary last night a respite for their broken hearts; their visit a boost to the events that mark Manuela's passing and which benefit so many.

And it is because of feelings such as I outlined above, the death of Manuela resonated with many many families. I do not know how I would react were the same fate to befall me. I cannot for sure say that I would be calm and reflective or forgiving. I think it would be extremely difficult to be reminded of past episodes; even that would be painful, never mind the sense of loss, the loneliness, the silent empty rooms, the pictures of a light dimmed by darkness, the disruption of the natural order.

But while the Manuela case has generated all the headlines. we should not forget the sorrow that is being experienced by many other families who have lost members to violence. My heart also breaks when I meet members of the family of young Ciaran Cunningham from Claregalway who died violently just yards from Eyre Square. Like Manuela’s, his death was also a heinous act without reason. The loss felt by his family is no less than that of the Riedos.

In the news this week we read the anguished impact statement read out by the mother of the two boys murdered by their father in Co Mayo. We hear of the mother’s desire to have comforted her children to the end. Her longing an articulation of the pain felt by families of all who have lost their children through violence.

The loss of a child is never one that can be understood or fully absorbed into the psyche. There is a natural order to things and when that is disrupted, the emotional chaos is considerable.

Hans and Arlette Riedo have used their collective strength to ensure that their daughter's memory is maintained; that her legacy is one that benefits many people who suffer horrors like she did; that in her passing grew a cause of which she would have been proud were she to have lived and championed it.

They know that Manuela was happy here and longed to be here on her first overseas trip and so they have embraced Galway just as Galway has embraced them. Their ability to put anger to one side and to focus their forgiveness has resulted in a legacy that will benefit so many over the years.

The work of the Manuela Riedo Foundation under the guidance of the selfless Shane Lennon and his selfless energetic team has raised close to €200,000 and in the past year alone has taken more than 25 clients off the Galway Rape Crisis waiting list for long term counselling. It has also funded training of 16 child advocates at CARI, all in Manuela's name.

Galway-based CASATS (Child and Adolescent Sexual Assault Treatment Service ) and voluntary organisation CARI, provide a range of services for children affected by child sexual abuse. Their joint project; training and piloting volunteer child and family accompaniment officers to support child victims of sexual assault aims to offer support to between 60 and 70 families throughout in the West of Ireland from first point of contact with forensic medical services.

This service is and will continue to make a huge difference and will enhance psychological and practical support to child victims and their families at a time of crisis and ultimately to promote healing.

And while the foundation is in Manuela’s name, it is a tribute to all who have died violently. Our support of it is in direct proportion to our abhorrence at the deaths of Manuela and Ciaran and all the others. It is hoped that their families find healing in the belief that their legacy will help heal the pain of others.

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