A Letter to … the Strangers on That Friday Train When I Heard That Dad had Died
The most important thing is to say a huge thank you. What an insubstantial way to express something so big, but thank you all the same. Your compassion made the bleakest moment of my life strangely inspiring too.
Now, when I think back to that awful moment when I heard that Dad had died, I don’t just recall the horror and how hard it was to comprehend, I also remember being overwhelmed by your kindness. I remember the strangers who somehow came together and supported me. Despite being so bereft and alone, I also felt so safe.
It still surprises me what a shock the news was. After all, we’d been expecting it for several years. Or perhaps we’d just been expecting it for so long that when it happened, it seemed as much of a shock as if it really had come out of the blue.
Some parts I remember very clearly. I remember making a phone call in the train carriage to my sister in A&E, then hearing myself say “He hasn’t died, has he?” I remember the long, long pause as my sister tried to respond, her silence telling me everything I didn’t want to hear. I remember the absurd mutual assurances that followed (“Of course I’m OK. You?”) and making eye contact with the woman across the aisle.
It’s blurry after that. Someone got me water. Someone helped me to control my breathing and headed off a panic attack. Someone (perhaps the same person?) assured me that I was only shaking so much because I was in shock – something I’d entirely missed at the time.
Staff were fetched and, along with some of you, my fellow passengers helped me into to an empty first-class carriage. My bag was packed for me, my hand held and my back rubbed all the way on that long, slow walk down the train. People then sat with me, helped me to work out who I needed to call and how to work the phone. No one flinched when I said I thought I needed to puke, though I’m glad I didn’t need to test this kindness any further.
Crucially, everyone then left me when I said I wanted to be left – albeit keeping a close eye on me from the next carriage. One passenger – or was it two? Or three? – even came back to check on me several times during the rest of the journey, asking if I wanted company or privacy.
The railway staff were amazing. They were young but responded with such maturity. I was given hot, sweet tea and made to drink it. Before I found out that a family member had been dispatched to meet me off the train, they even arranged for a taxi to ensure I wouldn’t have to get across London by myself.
When the train finally reached its destination, they gave me food for the onward journey and carried my bags, holding my hand and steering me through the crowds until I was safely passed over to my brother-in-law. They refused my clumsy attempt at a tip, and I really hope that my similarly clumsy letter of profuse thanks a few weeks later reached them.
As for my fellow passengers, I don’t know how many of you stepped up to help me that day. It felt as if there were hundreds but there may have been just a few. I know I’d never recognise any of you again. I’ll never be able to express how grateful I was. And how sorry to all those others on the train who weren’t directly involved but whose previously uneventful journey I disturbed with my distress.
Someone more emotionally controlled than me, might have handled the situation differently but I think that in moments such as this you simply react. Instinct and my general faith in the kindness of strangers made me take a risk and reach out. I’m so glad I did. (Most) people are amazing.
Source: The Guardian.