Sunday, 1 February 2009

In Memory of Joseph Patrick Mullin

What do you say to a grief stricken woman who has lost her only son? It was January 13th and we were sitting in the front room of her pristine house in Childwall drinking tea, and today was his birthday. Pauline had put the fire on.

If he had been alive, Joe would have been 25. But he had been dead for three years, and his mother was still distraught with unspeakable emotional pain. Especially so on this day. I asked Pauline if she would talk about Joe, and talk she did, unable to come terms with what had happened. While listening, I set up my camera.

Not long after this lovely, dignified lady started to cry, just lightly, and I sat down next to her. I have never seen such raw grief up close and it entered me forcibly. I was at a loss.

With Pauline’s permission, I began to photograph her and in so doing captured the gauntlet of emotions a bereaved mother experiences through sudden death. She cried, and frowned, expressed anger, remorse, guilt, and yes, when she recalled the mannerisms of her beloved only child, Joe, she smiled and, sometimes, almost laughed.
I stayed almost three hours and wept too. We hugged. Every ounce of my being felt for Pauline. There were no solutions or remedies I could offer, just a shoulder to cry on, and a stranger to be able to be open with. It did us both good.
On October 29th 2005 Joe was a passenger in a car that spun out of control in Wavertree. Such was the force of the collision that he was flung from the car and killed instantly. The driver survived. Joe was meant to be in another car, but it was one of those twists of fate that sent him to the back seat of this car. Life, and death, always seems that way.

His end was abrupt, and his suffering short, but the same cannot be said for Pauline who lives with the consequences of that night, and the subsequent painful court case, every second of her life. For her there is no respite as the tableau of every day existence only serves to remind her of what and whom she has lost.
How do you cope when a child dies? It is a question that I ask myself often, a fear that I hold deep inside myself like most mothers. I cannot imagine surviving the loss of a child, let alone the loss of my ONLY child. But survive Pauline does, for she knows she must, though that does not ease her pain.

By working with specialist organizations to create awareness of the consequences of death caused by road crashes, Pauline has sought to create something positive out of tragedy. Joe’s family and friends have raised money for a number of charities and a chorister’s award has been set up at the Metropolitan Cathedral where Joe himself had been a chorister. This very afternoon there was to be a presentation at The Walton Centre in Joe’s memory. But she was hurting so much I could feel the strength of it in the very atoms of the room, and so I did the only thing I know to do, that could help. I recorded her breadth of her emotions.
I hope this image of Pauline, unplanned, raw and real, is intended, shows how terrible bereavement is - that it does not just happen in war, but here, in our safe modern world.

Every day, mothers, and fathers, like her are being bereaved unexpectedly. Some stories make the news, others, like the murder of Rhys Jones, spark off the public’s consciousness, and yet more get a brief mention, then trickle away quickly from the public eye, leaving the bereft family adrift in a world that for them has changed forever. The best they can do is to allow their suffering to make them better, more caring people. Because sudden death is negative. It is destructive. The future has to balance this sorrow. It has to heal and mend to create something whole. But this whole will never be the same again. Never. Again.

Look at Joe’s Mum and imagine.