I remember reading Antoine’s Facebook status and thinking how right he was, and how poignant his words were in the aftermath of the Paris attacks on the 13th of November 2015.
More so than those of any politician, religious leader, bystander or any other person personally affected by the atrocities.
I knew I would find it an emotional read. Antoine Leiris writes as he feels and experiences. His words and descriptions are focused solely on his son and himself.
In the aftermath, and during such attacks, the focus tends to be on the who, the why and the how. How many are dead? How exactly did they die? Who took their lives and why? Leiris doesn’t do that at all. Instead we get the reality of loved ones learning to deal with the absence the death has created. The normality of having to cook, go to sleep, return to work and of having to live without the person they loved.
The read was accompanied by tears, which wasn’t a surprise, as said I knew it would be an emotional read. I was surprised by what made me cry though. It wasn’t when Antoine was finally reunited with his wife after two days or the funeral. It was the baby food pots.
The compassion of the parents in the nursery school, and the way he accepts their need to help. Their need supersedes his own and that of his child.
It’s a strange thing grief, especially in the case of mass tragedy. It often becomes about the bystanders and those on the periphery, as opposed to those who are actually involved in the incidents. It’s almost as if you and I need to feel and work through the emotional distress,because the stark reality of the event is so frightening. Subconsciously we are glad it wasn’t us, but simultaneously we feel ashamed and guilty for those thoughts. The guilt is appeased via compassionate words, gestures and actions.
Hence the cards, letters, the baby pots, food and messages he receives. Antoine describes this process really well without actually coming out and saying it. Even within these pages he is still careful of taking away from others. He isn’t necessarily braver than anyone else, he perhaps just has better insight into what everyone else needs in this awful situation. Hopefully he can learn to put his own needs and those of Melvil first.
The book is a lovely testament to his wife Hélène, his son Melvil and himself. A fresh breath of humanity embedded in a whirlwind of grief and loss. A short yet very poignant read.