Penny Faust
Oxford Jewish Congregation

Remembering has been very much in the news lately.

As a nation, over the past month we’ve remembered those who died or were injured on a sunny beach in Tunisia, the horrors of the London bombings 10 years ago, events of the First World War and even the Battle of Waterloo.

The first two were so recent that we’ve stopped what we’ve been doing for a minute’s silence both as a mark of respect and compassion, and to provide a time of individual reflection.

I don’t know what you thought about, but those periods of silence made me consider what I would have done had I been there. How I would have felt if one of my relatives or friends had been a victim.

It is the sheer randomness of such events which makes them so terrifying: the arbitrariness of the effects makes them even more so.

To be killed or injured in a place where killing and injury are the last things on one’s mind is an insult to our integrity and sense of self: we can’t anticipate such things and for most of us, we don’t want to conceive that it could happen.

Which I suspect is one of the reasons why, as a nation, we choose to memorialise such events after they have happened. But it’s not just that.

Remembering, making a specific time to think about people we have lost, is a part of who we are as human beings.

And quite rightly so.

We are each of us the sum of our experiences and included in that are the people we know best and who have had an effect on our lives.

Anyone who is bereaved is entitled to grieve in their own way and at their own speed. But we’re not always very good in recognising that in others.

Unlike our grandparents and great-grandparents, death does not feature routinely in modern life.

We don’t experience it as a matter of course and we don’t really like to think about it.

All too often, we try to deny the effect that it has on the bereaved.

I was watching one of the many programmes that were transmitted about the London bombings and the sister of a much loved victim of the bus bombing spoke about the reaction of someone she worked with.

They were talking about the event and she was asked how long ago it had happened.

When she said “Eight months”, her co-worker said: “Time to move on then.”

I was outraged on the sister’s behalf.

How dare anyone suggest that grief is time limited and what that time should be?

But I was also staggered that anyone could show such ignorance and lack of sensitivity.

On reflection, I thought that perhaps that co-worker had never experienced the loss of someone close and had no knowledge of the personal devastation that can bring.

The sister was very dignified in her response and explained that she was moving on, that the family had set up a charity in her sister’s name, that she was getting on with her everyday life but without forgetting who her dead sister had been and what she meant to them all.

That’s what memorials are for.

They are time set aside not so that we can wallow in self-pity, not so that we can dwell on the “might have beens”.

But so that we can remember with dignity the people who died, so that we can celebrate their lives and also offer our sympathy and support to their relatives and friends.

So that we can demonstrate that we have not forgotten.