We were driving into Tescos in Flitwick on Saturday morning. As I reversed into a parking space the news reader on the radio announced that six people had died in a road accident, a head on collision on the A429 in the Cotswolds.
As I switched off the ignition and pulled up the handbrake my youngest said "oh my god, do you think it might be someone we know?"
Not an unusual question really. She still lives and attends school in the Cotswolds during the week. We spent fifteen years of our lives there as a family, and being the person I am, there was hardly a committee, church or otherwise, that I wasn't involved in.
We know a huge number of people.
Two hours later her worst fears were confirmed…
The young girl who died was in my daughter’s drama group at her school. She was fifteen.
The rest of my weekend I spent observing a teenager’s reaction to a sudden death.
It was traumatic.
At one point I asked my daughter to share the text messages she received with me.
By Sunday morning I was editing her responses.
MySpace, Face Book, Beebo, and the usual teenager networking sites, all kicked in.
User names on MySpace started to change to names reflecting the tragedy; bulletin boards were posted and an entire cohort descended into a pit of peer supported misery.
The Sunday papers carried photographs of the young girl in her school uniform; and in the Sunday Telegraph there was a picture of my daughter’s friend, the kindest hearted boy with the sunniest disposition, laying flowers at the scene of the crash. Bless him, a lovely boy who waves like mad from the window of his dad’s car, on the one morning a week I drop off at school.
My own name was printed two inches below the picture, as a comment on an entirely unrelated article. The Sunday Telegraph has a distribution of millions and yet that one page connected to both my daughter and I.
I was close to my friends at school. There were five of us, Rita, Nicki, Tina, Suzy and I.
We were close; but not as teenagers are today, who as a result of far greater technology than was at our disposal, talk to each other constantly.
I have read reports of schools banning teenage girls and boys from hugging each other, in an attempt to calm down the amount of tactile contact.
My friends and I never ever hugged each other.
Every telephone conversation my daughter has with her friends ends with four or five "love you’s". We never did that.
When a boy in my year died we hardly mentioned it.
Six boys went to the funeral as pall bearers; and returned silently, with minimal fuss, halfway through a lesson when the funeral was over.
We all looked round as they walked silently back into the lesson, sat down and opened their books.
No one uttered a word, but silent tears were shed.
I have thought about that boy many, many, times over the years.
How he chased me in the tennis courts, and I pulled his army rucksack off his back, and ran away with it.
I can see his face now laughing in front of me, pleading with me to give him his bag back, as though it was only yesterday.
But I never waved to him as though my life depended on it, or said half a dozen love you’s at the end of a telephone conversation. I never hugged him.
Will my daughter and her peers remember their friend in years to come, or does this new way of grieving get it all out there, over and done with in one hit?
I observed over the weekend an outpouring of grief, which hovered on the edge of becoming something that could have become a cause for concern.
The news of the young girl’s death spread like wildfire via the medium of the internet and mobile phones.
Each teenager’s thoughts were transferred into instant messages via the web, read, judged and responded to within seconds.
Those who didn’t even know the young girl that well and weren’t in her friendship group, as my daughter wasn’t, comforted each other.
Surely, this instant appraisal and response to spontaneous thought, works to create an artificial environment of communication.
Would the teenage thoughts communicated via the internet not be deeper, more considered and rationalised from within with greater self healing effect, if those thoughts were held onto for a little while longer, before they were ‘put out there’.
My daughter did not have the time over the weekend to 'come to terms' with what had happened in her own way. I don’t know if the phenomenon of constant and instant communication helped her or not.
The school will provide counsellors for the children today; and there will be many, many, hugs and tears shed for the loss of a beautiful, happy, shy, much loved girl who had already had to cope with a great deal.
I am far happier with an adult counsellor, than I am with the teenage networking sites on the internet, as I am sure other parents are too.