Wednesday, September 3, 2003 Back The Halifax Herald Limited
Swissair families never
stop 'thinking about it'
By Gerrie Grevatt / South Shore Bureau
Bayswater - Their moment of silence broken, families of the victims of Swissair 111 gazed skyward Tuesday as a Sea King helicopter flew overhead, dropping a ceremonial wreath into the sea.
The thunderous roar of the military chopper released a flood of grief among many of the mourners as they remembered loved ones who died.
"The sound and the sight of a helicopter over water still gets you after five years," said Capt. John O'Donnell, chaplain of 33 Service Battalion of Halifax and an organizer of Tuesday's ecumenical service.
The Interfaith Council of Halifax and International Association of the Families of Swissair Flight 111 hosted the service.
About 50 people attended the service at a granite memorial and burial site across the highway from Bayswater beach.
Etched into the polished stone are the names of the 229 men, woman and children who perished on Sept. 2, 1998.
A grass-covered plot in front of the memorial, cordoned off with granite posts linked by chains, contains 28 coffins of the unidentified remains of the dead.
"This is very sacred ground," Capt. O'Donnell said.
"This place is so significant for families, much more so than Peggys Cove. When families come to Nova Scotia, this is their place of pilgrimage."
So it was for Claire Mortimer who came here from her home, the island of Kauai in Hawaii.
Ms. Mortimer brought and wore a lei of orchids to honour her late father and stepmother.
"I've done very individual observances and moments of silence wherever I happen to have been in the past years, but it always felt strange to be far away," she said.
Her father, John Mortimer, a senior vice-president of the New York Times and his second wife, Hilda, had been on their way to France for a vacation.
Tuesday was the first time she attended the annual service, though she's been to the Bayswater site six times.
Jean Gabourdes wept as he and his wife, Michele, of Nimes, France, placed lavender-filled cloth bags by the stone bearing the names of their son Herve, daughter-in-law Christine and grandchildren Amanda and Tristan.
The couple, visiting Nova Scotia for the third time since the tragedy, brought the herb from home. Lavender compounds were used for centuries to heal wounds on the battlefield.
"It's always the same, the emotions," Mr. Gabourdes said through a translator.
Madeline McWhinnie, a logistics officer from Digby Ground Search and Rescue, stood away from the grieving families. She didn't want to add to their pain by having them see her cry.
"It's still too hard. . . . You don't forget it," she said.
The 45-minute service, in English and French, included music and prayers, reflections and laying of flowers.
It was the final formal ceremony involving the Interfaith Council of Halifax, Capt. O'Donnell said.
"In future years, family members may bring their own clergy, or there may be something much simpler than this," he said.
Plessa Condy and fellow board members of District No. 1 community centre in Blandford, three Anglican Church guilds and area residents hosted a reception at the centre after the memorial.
Preparing the food - as they did for rescue workers five years ago - was difficult.
"Each year we keep reliving it. . . . We never stop thinking about it," she said.
Back in the days when I was a Flight Attendant, I had the honour and pleasure of getting to know one of our airline's In-Flight Service Directors,
who was a sincere, intelligent and very thoughtful guy. He was born in India, and came to Canada with his family when he was 9 years old.
To the casual observer, he appeared to be gregarious and outgoing, always had a smile and a friendly word for anyone. Professional to a T, he was as well a very calm and gentle person.
I flew more than a few trips with him, and on one layover, in Amsterdam in early 1990, our crew went out to dinner, and he and I ended up afterwards in the hotel bar, chatting and having a few drinks. We spoke about a lot of things; life, friendship, lifepaths, etc., and it was then that he told me something that made my blood run cold. On June 22, 1985, his father, brother, sister-in law and two nephews boarded Air India flight 182 from Toronto to Delhi, via London Heathrow. They never made it to their destination, as the bomb that was planted on-board detonated while the flight was flying just off the coast of Ireland.
I was shocked and speechless, and immediately felt a profound sense of sadness for him. He spoke of how that tragedy was burned into his heart and soul, and of how one never really gets over it. He also mentioned that time, for him, was somewhat of a healer of the raw emotions, yet his inner strength and courage allowed him to carry on with his life. We spoke of the afterlife, and our deep belief in it, and of how we belived that the soul does cross over and indeed survives physical death. That in and of itself was the key component for him in terms of coping and carrying on. I was amazed, awed, and deeply touched by this man. To think that behind the smile, the kindess and the supposed serenity of this individual was that particular incident. It still haunts me to this day.
Funny how we think we (many of us, not all)can discern a person based on what is presented to us.
Little do we know what lies beneath the surface, within the eyes and soul of anyone.
Thank you, for "introducing" this gentleman in such a touching way. I have included him on the long list of those I pray for each day and endless night.
Your insights are truly incredible and mean the world to some of us. Journalists don't really have a clue, yet at times seem to report on issues of which they know nothing (personally) about. Thank God they don't. This is one of the more realistic articles I've endured reading because it isn't about "warm, fuzzy feel goods", as so many I've seen over the long years have been.
I rarely speak "in public" (having a difficult time speaking in private this year as well) during this week, but your words touched me so deeply. I felt the need to respond (meager as it is) with Thank you.
Lyn S. Romano
IASA/US <International Aviation Safety Assoc>
Wife of Raymond M. Romano
Passenger on swissair Flight 111
I agree with Lyn- you certainly have an incredible understanding of how painful the loss of our loved ones is. Thank you for your kind & touching words.
Dear Barbara and Lyn,
I have attempted to write this response to the both of you countless times today, but alas,
work does find a way of getting in the way.
Thank you both so much for taking a moment to express your kind words in response to my posting. I in no way whatsoever mean to upset you with this response, and I do hope my words do not have a negative impact on you. However, as a fellow human being, I felt compelled to write to you, to somehow, in some small way reach out to you and let you know that there are people who do sincerely care about you, who think about you and your families. Like you, many have not forgotten SR111; true, it is not in our minds and thoughts each and every day as it must be for you, however, as stated, we remember. that there are individuals who can empathize with the intense, deep sense of loss you all have suffered. No-one, no-one should have to have gone through the living hell you all have faced. The more I researched and read about the tragedy of Flight 111, the more angry I became at Swissair and their absolute and deplorable negligence.
I must admit that I hesitated writing this, as I felt somehow that I would be "intruding" in your very private space; infiltrating a realm of specific and acute intensity and sorrow that is only known to you and you alone, for all of us, no matter who we know and love, no matter who has known and loved us in return during the course of our lives, must face the world on a singular basis at the end of the day. This, without a doubt must be a particularily hard time for you (and all the SR111 families and friends)to get through; mind you, one would suppose every day since the crash presents its varying degrees of challenges. I equate it with riding a roller coaster in the dark; you just never know when the ride is going to drop, speed up, slow down, do a fast turn, or what.
I myself was "introduced" to you throughout the pages of "Flight 111", by Stephen Kimber. Mr. Kimber did an outstanding job, in my opinion. I am not embarrassed to say that I was at times in tears whilst reading the accounts of what you all and I include the many brave and wonderful people of Halifax and surrounding areas here)had no choice but to face and endure that night and in the dark days beyond. As a former cabin crew member, the crash of SR111 affected me deeply, as indeed all civil aviation accidents do. It was without a doubt not the best of circumstances in which to be introduced to fellow human beings, but I wanted you to know that I felt (and feel) honoured to have gotten to know you both in relation to the extent each of you allowed yourselves and your respective families to be presented/conveyed to the world through the author. You should be proud, yes proud of the fact that through your willingness to speak with Mr. Kimber (and other dignified journalists), you helped (and continue to help) countless people in their own struggle and personal quest to find a sense of direction and purpose in dealing with the loss of their own loved ones. Your dignity, integrity, intelligence, strength and will shone through each page.
Barbara and Mark (and I apologize but I am at a momentary loss to recall your other daughters name), it was a pleasure for me to read about and get to know your daughter, Tara. She sounded like quite the go-getter and quite the intelligent young woman who certainly had her act together. It is a testament to her parents and sister that she was the unique and dynamic young lady she was. I trust your youngest daughter is flourishing and doing well, and of course the same best wishes extends to the two of you. Barbara, I admire and respect you for your courage and desire to implement positive (and overdue) changes within the civil aviation industry.
Lyn, It too was a pleasure for me to get to know your beloved husband, Ray. He struck me as being a very down to earth man who cared deeply about his wife and two sons, a true family man. Every time I read of your justified anger in the book, I was rooting for you! (I have quite the Irish temper myself). Anger, in my most humble opinion, is the ideal fuel which drives us on to achieve things we never dreamed we would or could. And God only knows anger is aroused within us when faced with ignorance and apathy on a grand scale. When the term "Italian Stallion" was mentioned in the book, I felt it described you to a T. :-) I hope your two sons are well and are growing into fine young men. Lyn, I applaud you on your aviation safety organisation, and wish you all the best with it. Go get em!
Note: I was also rather touched by the sorrow and plight of Nancy Wight, mother of SR111 passenger Rowenna. I hope and pray she is alright and doing fine, well, as best she can given the circumstances.
I think back to that night, in Amsterdam in 1990, when I was shown the photographs of a father, son, sister-in-law and 2 young boys who needlessly died due to inept airline/aiport security measures. I saw faces, frozen in time, staring up at me, smiling. Faces which contained unique souls and character, each with their own hopes and dreams for their lives, and the anxiousness and anticipation of what tomorrow would bring. There should have been a lot of tomorrows. One of the little boys in the photographs was holding a Winnie The Pooh Bear.
His uncle told me the child took that bear on-board the Air India Flight with him as he wanted "Pooh" to see the world and experience an adventure. That was what made me break down and cry. What made me truly angry, and intensely sad, was the fact that the faces should only have been frozen within the photographs themselves; the subjects should have been alive and in motion, going about creating their own lifepaths while remaining safe and secure within the collective lifepath of the family unit. But it was not to be. However, their deaths do not have to be in vain. Not theirs, not anyones. It is up to each of us, all of us, to ensure that the skies are safe for all who fly them, so family members will be reunited with loved ones upon reaching their destinations. Each and every airline passenger should be able to safely utilize commercial aircraft as a vehicle which will lead them to create, shape and enhance their destiny here on earth. Airline safety is not a privilege, it is a right that has been relegated to the back burners by civil air carriers the world over. One thing that makes me proud is the fact that the Canadian Transport Ministry has rigid high standards in regards to airline safety which meet or exceed those standards of other countries.
The faces in the photographs shown to me, and
the faces of countless other photographs, too many photos for that matter, may be "gone" from the earth, but I believe with all of my heart and feeble simple mind that they are alive and well in the next dimension. My own personal belief in this has nothing to do with organised religions
(I was born and raised a Roman Catholic; today I am a "free thinker", so don't talk to me about guilt!) or dogma or doctrines, but rather is based on my own personal "experiences". It is, I realize, little or no consolation to those left behind, and some days I must say it is of little consolation to myself, especially when I think of my own parents. But in the end, when all is said and done, it's all about hope. Hope is what feeds us. Hope is what drives us onwards. Hope is the only bloody tangible in this crazy world of intangibles that we can grasp and hang onto. And thank "God" for that.
One of my favourite quotes is by the wonderful
Samuel Butler, who said, "Life is like giving a concert on the violin while learning to play the instrument". Indeed.
Barbara and Lyn, take good good care of yourselves. I wish nothing but the very best for you. It was an honour to have been presented with the opportunity to be "introduced" to you.
J.O. I don't even know how to begin to express my gratitude to you for your incredible words of understanding. Just please know that I have personally found your thoughts extremely comforting.
I saw the monuments at Peggy's Cove and Bayswater for the first time on August 31, 2011, and wanted to extend my profound sympathy to all of the families of the passengers and crew. I saw the memorial bags laid at the Bayswater monument for the Gabourdes family and I was so moved by the depth of sentiment that they conveyed. I had no idea at the time who had laid them, and I took pictures which I have posted to my flickr photostream. With the knowledge that I have since, I might never have posted it, and I apologize sincerely for any offense it may have caused. If the Gabourdes would like me to remove it, I will do so without hesitation, but it is a poignant and touching memorial that evoked deep emotion in all of us who were there. I have endeavoured to render it appropriately, respectfully and with the reverence I believe it deserves.
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