Good remembering

Lyra McKee wanted me to come out with her in the car sometime to help build her confidence.  We’d been talking about it for ages, especially after she encountered road rage trying to join the M2 from the Yorkgate side of the York Street junction, which is not for the faint-hearted.

I’m fairly sure I’m not the exemplar of good driving which she should have been following.

One of the most important things in grieving is good remembering.  When you sit down with friends and you tell stories about the person you’ve lost.  Turning tears of sorrow into tears of joy as you remember the life lived.  Why you loved them.

It’s something I witnessed at very close hand when we lost Jo’s sister Louise to cancer four years ago and we spent three weeks in Scotland in the aftermath, just being there.

I first came across Lyra way back in the early days of U105.  Lyra was Carolyn Stewart’s production assistant for her Saturday Night Fever show, manning the phones, and latterly all but co-presenting.  It was the same very young voice as we’ve known ever since.  Absolutely bonkers, and really sweet, smart and entertaining.

I’ve seen it as my own minister takes a funeral and spends 10-15 minutes retelling the stories about the deceased, all the bits that make you smile, all the things that made the family and friends so glad they knew them.

I walked with Lyra as she worked on her magnum opus about the murder of Robert Bradford, reading chapters as she released them for the folks supporting her.

Louise’s funeral was huge, and the funeral directors gave their services for free.  The only charge the family had to meet was for the coffin, the cemetery plot and the opening of the grave.

Lyra and I talked a lot about what she was doing.  Usually in the depths of her work, she couldn’t say an awful lot about specifics, but I knew I was part of that network of people she could and would talk to.

When I was 24, a death hit me straight in the stomach.  Her name was Steff O’Neill.  Steff had been driving through a motorway contraflow near Lisburn, and for whatever reason her car went straight through the cones into a lorry.  She was only 21.  It took much processing by myself and my friends to get over the loss of someone so special.

One of my friends, Sarah, got Lyra in a nutshell.

Never in a million years did I think I would wake up to news like this and have danced badly and talked sh*te and eaten burgers with the victim.  It’s just not fair.

What else would you have done with Lyra?

Steff left many memories.  Those of us around Summer Madness in the 1990s and other programmes of which Steff was part remember the sheer ebullient force of nature that was Steff.

My mate Sarah said “Turns out the small things are actually the big things.”  Lyra was used to heightist comments, although, let’s be fair, usually they were deliberate.  Sarah’s needed to be misinterpreted to say that.

Good Friday and Easter is a funny time in church in many ways.  It’s the centre of the Church’s year, because the significance of everything else hangs on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Sara Canning is a brave woman.  To stand up at the vigil in the Creggan and to be able to speak as securely and as well as she did was utterly amazing.

Easter begins in darkness.  The darkness of night, and the darkness of despair.

I’d say the majority of Slugger’s writers have met Lyra, and every one of us has probably rubbed her up the wrong way at least once.

Steff had a memorial service at Summer Madness in 1997.  A lot of tears were cried.

In the last two days I have discovered people I had no idea were connected to Lyra.

Louise’s life as a minister in Balerno Parish Church impacted on many many lives, and the overflow from the church into the church halls, and further into the concourse of the local High School reflected that.  Some of the dignitaries one might expect to see in the second row of a church funeral, behind the mourning family, could only find room to sit in the High School, because so many people who were close to Louise were in the church.

Death hits you in different ways.

Good remembering helps.  It reminds you of the joy of knowing the person.

My friend Ruth posted her Not In My Name video from Ronan Kerr’s murder in 2011.

Several people have posted a quote from Lyra  from her article about suicide among the ceasefire babies.

Good Friday always reminds me of SM Lockridge’s famous sermon, cited by Tony Campolo, “It’s Friday. Sunday’s coming.

A gofundme page for Lyra raised £40,000 in 24 hours.  As I write, it’s sitting at £52k.

A lot of people have discovered Lyra for the first time because she’s no longer with us.

Lyra’s dedication to justice and her absolute hatred of hypocrisy inspires us to do likewise.  Lyra could deal with people who were honest about their hypocrisy.

But what Lyra, Louise and Steff all have in common is that their legacy is only in small part what they did for the world.

I think everyone’s most underrated legacy is our friends and family.  Those who know us.  Those who feel safe enough to invite us to walk with them through their frustration, and who walk with us through our frustrations.

Good remembering gets to be followed up by what you are going to do about the legacy of the person you’ve lost.

It can take years to get over someone’s death.  Some people never do.  And it can never be wrong to be sorry that someone you love is no longer here.

I thanked Sara for the light she had brought to Lyra’s life.  I had never seen Lyra so happy, and it was a joy to hear that Lyra had brought the same light to Sara’s life.  In there was the bitter disappointment that Lyra would never be able to introduce me to Sara.

There will be more good remembering.  I expect that over the next week or two there will be occasions with friends to sit in coffee shops and pubs and talk about this remarkable young woman, our friend.

I hope that Lyra’s legacy will involve the destruction of lingering support for the dissidents.  It may be a vain hope; there have been arrests connected with her murder, but we wait to see how the revulsion caused will impact on the terrorists.

But as with Louise and Steff, the impact ripples outwards.  The impact on Andy today is an impact on more people tomorrow, next week, the week after and beyond.

Multiply that by Lyra’s friends.

Last night, I was thinking of the darkness and the light that was coming.  Finishing the Good Friday service last night, as I so often do, with Keith Getty’s and Stuart Townend’s Power of the Cross, I was playing piano with total raw passion for God and Jesus, and what he has done in my life.

Not very precise at all.  Not the pristine descants of a Christmas Carol Service (hang on.  Since when did I ever play anything pristinely at any time?), just raw power.

There will be more of it tomorrow morning, Easter Day.  If you can’t loosen up on Easter Day, when can you?

The sun will rise tomorrow. Lyra won’t be with us.  Nor will Louise.  Nor will Steff, nor the thousands whose lives have inspired Slugger readers.

But we will be there.  And we will have remembered well, if we learn from what we remember and live by it.


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