Terrorist Attacks: Resisting hate, living with grief – How victims’ families reconstruct their lives

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Whenever we read the headlines of tragic, violent terrorist attacks that cause the deaths of innocent people we are overwhelmed by a combination of feelings.

There is the sadness for the loss of lives, the shock of the extent of what has happened and the anger towards the criminals that are to blame. There is also confusion regarding the background and the missing pieces to make sense of what happened, the fear of possibly knowing the residents who lived in the place where the tragedy took place and the anxiety it causes when taking into account that it could have happened to us and our loved ones in our home town the next day.

The idea of what it is actually like to lose a loved one in an act of violence is unbearable and impossible to fully comprehend for anybody from the outside. I think the main difference between being personally involved and reading or hearing about the same tragedy is that for us who did not know any of the names or faces of the victims, we will feel moved and sorry at the time of the event and when it is a topic of media interest, but after a couple of hours or days, the feelings become more and more numb, more recent news catches our attention and soon it is just a blurred memory. For those who lose someone they have known for years and saw on a regular basis, a part of their lives is extinguished. The traumatic events will become part of their long-term memory and sadness will turn to grief and for some later to despair and depression.

This enormously intense feeling will persist over time, become a regular companion of holidays like Christmas or birthdays. It will be the first thought to wake up to and the last to keep one up at night. Questions that have no answer will be obsessed over, because one is not given the answers he/she so desperately needs to understand, to find peace and to finally get on with one’s life:

“What brings young fellow citizens, grown up around the same values in the same country with the same constitution to barbarically kill innocents? What made them lose all hope and reason? Why did this happen in our city? What or who could have stopped it? Is there something I could have personally done? Why did they take the person I love the most?” Maybe it was their mother, their brother or their child.

What happened on this particular day will change you forever. There will be a before and an after. Life will never be the same again.

For Stéphane Sarrade it was his son that he lost on the 13th of November 2015 at the Bataclan in Paris. Hugo Sarrade was a 23-year-old student of Informatics at the University of Montpellier II. He loved to play his electric guitar, go out and was fascinated by the Japanese culture. When he was 16 his father took him with him for the first time to Tokyo where he was on a business trip. Looking back, his father remembers that this trip completely changed how his son saw the world and other people around him. This is why he planned to do his PhD there after he had finished his Master’s degree in southern France.

Resisting means surviving the pain of the absence and the fatal emptiness inside. – Stéphane Sarrade

With the loss of a loved one, many feel like they cannot find the sense in life anymore. By creating and inventing something that his son would have loved, M. Sarrade gave his life meaning again. With the help of the University of Montpellier and the foundation ParisTech he created a scholarship that would enable a student of Hugo’s University to spend a semester abroad in Japan on a placement. It’s not meant for those of academic excellence but for those who are socially disadvantaged and would otherwise never have had such an opportunity. The scholar’s time in Japan, with its luminous culture and kind-hearted people, would hopefully change their mind-set as it once did Hugo’s.

Mr. Sarrade expressed that he feels no hate towards the assassins, because he perceives it as a negative energy. This is his way to fight back, with culture, education, an open mind and hope. “My own son did not survive me, I would like for this scholarship to do so.”

The last time Mr. Sarrade saw Hugo was when he came back from his travels in Japan. On this trip Hugo decided to get his first tattoo of the two ideograms that form the Japanese word “Jiyuu”. It means liberty.

This article was greatly inspired by a French article in Le Monde: http://www.lemonde.fr/attaques-a-paris/article/2016/04/01/vivreavec-batir-sur-le-neant_4894222_4809495.html