On the night of Saturday the 25th of March, 2006 (two days ago), three of the members of my year (U6) at school were involved in a car crash. Two were killed, and the other was critically wounded - at the time of writing he's still in hospital, and I don't know his exact condition, but I've heard he's going to be alright. I first heard of this when I walked into the sixth form
common room this morning (Monday 27th), which explained why everyone was so silent.
Most of the rest of this morning was spent in a kind of shock. We had a special all-school assembly, in which the headmaster made a speech (along the usual lines, i.e. 'our hearts and prayers go out to the families of the victims'), which seemed very genuine (usually the head is a bit aloof). We then went back to the common room and sat, not talking. It really started to unsettle me - no-one had anything to say, no condolences to close friends, no he was a great guy stories, nothing. Eventually, one of my friends arrived late (he always arrive late), and after he'd heard the news, pretty much just carried on as normal. I was relieved to be able to talk to someone as if nothing had happened, although we still talked quietly (out of respect I suppose).
Inevitably, someone had a problem with this. One member of my year, who I shall henceforth name Moron #1, had a penchant for being melodramatic - displaying emotion just so people could see how 'compassionate' he was (not that anyone thought it was genuine, as far as I know). He came over and asked why I was talking to my friend - I should be in mourning. I was a bit surprised, but said I didn't see why I couldn't talk to my friend, just like I usually do. This was evidently the wrong response, because immediately I had about five people around me accusing me of not caring about the accident.
At this point, another guy interjected and said beyond a basic feeling of sympathy, he wasn't mourning at all. His argument was that he hardly knew the victims, so why should he have to grieve? He was rapidly accused of being a 'heartless bastard', as was I.
My argument, which I told them at this point, was that I should be able to respond to the accident, to the deaths of some of my classmates, in whichever way I chose. I explained that I did feel sad, that I did feel sympathy for the families of the victims, but that I wasn't willing to let it get in my way of living my life normally. My mum died when I was 4, so I kinda learnt to deal with the death of someone close quite early in my life.
Ultimately, Moron #1 departed the room, calling me 'fucking disgusting', and went to tell the close friends of the victims, who had all sat in a circle in the main part of the common room. After a while, one of these (who I henceforth dub Moron #2) came in, looked at me, said 'You cunt. You complete and utter wanker', and left.
At this point I could hardly believe how I had pissed off half my year. Hadn't I said I had mourned as well? Evidently, Moron #1 had gone and told the rest of the year lies - it's happened many times before. Moron #2 came back in later with someone else, pointed at me, and said something about how I didn't care about the victims. I carefully explained what I'd already said about choosing my own form of mourning, but they just walked off, calling me a wanker.
How are we supposed to respond to death? How should we mourn when it's a distant relative or a vague acquaintance? What about if the victims are our parents or siblings? As shown with the Boxing Day tsunami in SE Asia, it seems we are meant to feel grief for every single death that ever occurs, and feel personally responsible for them. To me, this is absurd. Mild shock, a basic feeling of sympathy, perhaps of horror in cases of violent death, but not all-out public grief.
Calling someone heartless because they won't show their grief in public is absurd, and in my opinion shows how shallow we are with our emotions. Death is sad, but it happens. One should not mourn forever. Will I still be mourning in two months' time? I told Moron #1 today that I would not mourn publicly for more than a morning (which was mostly to do with shock), but I will remember the loss of my classmates for the rest of my life. Is that not enough?
August 2007: The third guy made a full recovery and is awaiting his A-level results, having gone back a year. Most of my peers from school still hate me.