Wednesday, July 15, 2009

It's the mothers I feel sorry for

"It rips out my heart a little every time, the sight of those young men’s fresh, hopeful faces, and the knowledge that yet another mother, somewhere, has just had her heart ripped out for eternity," writes
Melanie Reid in The Times of the deaths of young soldiers in Afghanistan. Meanwhile in Muswell Hill the mother of backpacker Jamie Neale must have feared she would never get to know what happened to her son. (Once the relief over his return has flooded through the system I fear he'll get a public kicking for his stupidity.)

Is it strange that we instinctively feel the grief of mothers must be more painful than anybody else's? This is particularly the case with the mothers of men of that age, who seem programmed to put themselves in harm's way whether in uniform or in the fleece of a gap year tourist. Last week I spoke to the 28-year-old Patrick Hennessey who's written "The Junior Officers Reading Club" about his time with the army in Helmand province. He assured me it was common practice to tell one's mother that the fighting was taking place far away from where you were operating. I have a friend whose son is out there now who's probably spinning his mother the very same line.

Mark Ellen reckons the most poignant song ever written may be Anna McGarrigle's "Heart Like A Wheel". He may be right, just for the line "when you bend it, you can't mend it". I don't know whether the Arabic tongue deals with hearts differently but the other day I read this line in Louise Richardson's "What Terrorists Want". It's the mother of a suicide bomber speaking. She said had she known what he was going to do "I would have taken a cleaver, cut open my heart, and stuffed him deep inside. Then I would have sewn it up tight to keep him safe."


  1. Well, to state the obvious, mothers give birth to their children while we just stand there, mouth open, going "Bloody hell!" when they pop into the world. Least that's what I did.

    When a child dies a mother must literally feel like part of them has gone, while for fathers it's only metaphorical. Not that I wouldn't be, you know, but I think I'd feel it differently.

  2. Your interview with Patrick Hennessey on the Word podcast was one of the best things I've heard in ages. So interesting, especially for us hand-wringing anti-war liberals. If you're interested, it inspired me to write a longish blog entry about the subject of Afghanistan and the disconnect between combat (so vividly recounted by Hennessey) and the armchair generals it's so tempting to be. It's here.