In this collective reflection, a group of adult women reflect on a tragic death that affected us when we were 14 years old.
We grew up in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), home to some of the world's beautiful wadis. Wadis are dry riverbeds found in deserts. They can hold water, and act as natural pools. They are prone to flash floods during heavy rains.
When I was 14 years old, I was playing with family friends in a hotel swimming pool. It was bright, sunny and ~ 45 C. All of a sudden dark rain clouds surrounded us, and our parents pulled us out of the swimming pool and into the safety of our rooms. For the next few hours, I sat next to the window and watched a severe thunderstorm pass by. It was ferocious. A big wooden sheet flew across the pool, and a significant distance past us. I just hoped no one was outside and facing the elements alone.
The next day, we heard about deaths in a wadi due to flash floods. A few days later, the local newspapers confirmed the news. A group of young people, ranging from the age of 14 to 25 drowned to death. One of these people, was our classmate G. She was 14 years old.
G was a new student in our school, and joined our class at the age of 13. Like most 13 year olds, we were awkward and struggled with the dynamics of high school. We did not really get to know her, except when we worked together on school projects. She was a lovely person and we knew she too was struggling to find her space in a new school.
I still remember the moment I heard G died. I was devastated. Like her, we were both enjoying the last days of summer, with our families. How did she die? Was she swimming in a natural wadi pool? Did someone help her? Were her legs entangled with the wadi weeds? Or was she trapped with her cousins in their 4-wheel drives (SUVs)? Why did a good person like G have to suffer? As a group, we all wondered if we could have spent more time with her and made her feel more welcome in our class. Our emotions ranged from sadness to guilt and shame.
G's funeral was a difficult day. In Sri Lankan and Indian Catholic cultures, a Funeral Mass is held for the deceased, followed by burial service. The Mass and burial is open to all members of the community. After these services, close friends and relatives visit the family's home and share a meal with them. Some of us went to her parents' home, and still remembers the calm comforting smile her Mum had. Her Mum thanked us for sharing memories of G, and we wondered how broken she must have felt as she listed to stories of her daughter, and only child. For one of us, attending the luncheon with her family gave us comfort to have been there and spent quality time with G's mum.
As we looked back on this moment in our lives, we were saddened that at the time, no grief counselling was offered to us at school. Teachers took no interest in understanding our emotions, and we were all expected to just move forward like nothing tragic happened. Further, we just dealt with G's death. Not for G's parents though. G's parents, and her Uncles and Aunties, together, lost so many young family members, all at once.
G passed away close to 25 years ago. With this end-of-life challenge, we started thinking about G's parents, Uncles and Aunties and remaining cousins. Did they find a way to rebuild their family together, knowing that at every Christmas, birthday, and wedding anniversary celebrations, their children were no longer there to build more memories?