Tuesday, September 2, 2003 Back The Halifax Herald Limited
Five years after Flight 111
Memorials now attract tourists, but the private grieving continues
By Bill Spurr / Features Writer
"Things I believed in were not worthy of belief anymore, and things I thought I cared about, I discovered I didn't care about. And the ocean brought to me an extraordinary reminder that there are forces much more important than individual human beings, even the dreams of individual human being."
- Ian Shaw
It's an odd sort of tourist attraction, the Swissair Flight 111 Memorial at Peggys Cove, but that's what it is now - something to see, like Lunenburg or Citadel Hill.
All manner of vehicles - vans from Virginia and motorcycles from Maine - fill the parking lot, their passengers walking the winding pathway to the granite monument, where they pose for photos and pick up the flower arrangements to read the cards attached.
"The other one's bigger, eh?" remarks a man, referring to the Swissair memorial at Bayswater. "And it has all the names on it."
"Where did it actually crash?" asks a woman as she looks out to sea, while another knot of visitors discuss what the rescue operation must have been like.
A prayer service at the Bayswater memorial site this morning at 11 a.m. marks the fifth anniversary of the crash of a Swissair jet off our coast, a crash that killed all 229 people on board.
This afternoon at 4 p.m., about 25 relatives of passengers will travel to the crash site itself, 11 kilometres off Peggys Cove.
To Ian Shaw, whose 25-year-old daughter Stephanie was a passenger on the ill-fated flight, the annual ceremonies are pointless.
"As far as I'm concerned, I would hope that this is the last year in which there is any formalized marking of a black date," he said.
"I always encourage family members . . . to come to Nova Scotia outside the anniversary date anyway. I think it's not healthy to have an accumulation of human energy concentrated on a negative date."
Reeling from the loss of his daughter, Mr. Shaw felt compelled to live by the water where she died. So leaving behind his wife and a successful career, he left Switzerland and bought a small restaurant in West Dover, a few kilometres from the crash site.
He's lost count of how many times he's been asked why.
"Everything changed," said Mr. Shaw, sitting on his restaurant's patio and looking out over the water.
"Things I believed in were not worthy of belief anymore, and things I thought I cared about, I discovered I didn't care about.
"And the ocean brought to me an extraordinary reminder that there are forces much more important than individual human beings, even the dreams of individual human beings."
The ocean, he said, "is a good reminder that nature doesn't belong to us; we belong to nature."
"Out of the horrors of the first visit here shone like a beacon the absolutely unbelievably compassionate way in which the people here responded to us coming in. It's something that is not easy to describe, but it was absolutely extraordinary."
Mr. Shaw and his wife of 33 years speak twice a day but see each other only four times a year.
She has poured herself into her work.
"It's vital to understand that grief never affects two people in the same way," Mr. Shaw said.
"Her response to what happened was diametrically opposed to mine."
Mr. Shaw doesn't take part in the formal remembrances of the Swissair tragedy and only rarely visits either of the memorials.
His home and business are just a short drive from the Peggys Cove site.
"In the few words that are engraved there, it links the people that were lost with the people who did so much for them and the surviving families," he said.
"Bayswater has that very terrible - to me - listing of the names engraved on stone. I never expected to live to see my daughter's name chiselled in granite."
Mr. Shaw's goals for his restaurant are to provide employment for some local people and happiness for travellers.
As for himself, "I function."
Unsure how long he will continue to live in Nova Scotia, Mr. Shaw said he does know that the ocean and the people here have brought him some peace.
"The worst nightmares, and they're less frequent now, were associated not so much with Stephanie, but with the pilots," he said, "because they were carrying that enormous responsibility and they knew what was happening and they knew there was nothing they could do for all these other people."
Mark was able to finally meet Mr. Shaw when the final report was released in March. My heart goes out to him. I share a lot of his feelings regarding the loss of my daughter.
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