15 July 2008

A Catholic family grieves

A needless death: Margaret Mizen at home in south-east London; her son [inset], Jimmy, who was killed minutes away from the family home last May (The Sunday Telegraph).

On 13 May I had a post,'We've got such lovely memories of Jimmy and they will have such sorrow about their son' in which Mrs Margaret Mizen spoke about her son, murdered the day after his 16th birthday. Last Sunday The Sunday Telegraph (London) published an article by Olga Craig based on an interview with Jimmy's parents, Barry and Margaret.

It's a long article but one well worth sharing with adult and teenage sons and daughters. Not only did the strong Catholic faith of the family come across but the little things special to each family that make them family.

Below are some of these 'little things' that remind me of similar happenings in my own family.

'You worry all the time when they're out of the house, of course you do,'' says Barry, his father, as he gazes out onto the garden of the family home where Jimmy played football and tended the lawn. ''You fret until you get a call to say they are on their way home. Or you hear their key turn in the door. Every parent knows that feeling.'

Barry again: 'You are never going to hug him again. Never sit in the car and sing the Sailors' Hornpipe with him. Those little standing jokes between father and son. You're never going to hear them again. And that hurts. That hurts so badly.'

In his home, too, the walls are crowded with pictures of Jimmy: as a boy sitting astride a football; in red sunglasses singing along at his sister's 21st birthday party; in a giggling, hugging huddle with his eight brothers and sisters.

Margaret Mizen, Jimmy's mother: 'Of course it's right to launch all these measures to combat knife crime,' she says, 'but it is more important that we teach our children how to show respect. We all need to think harder about the example we set. We need to instill in our youngsters respect for the law, for the rights of others… We don't want to preach, but life today is all about aspirations, material things. We live in a culture where we all, not just children, have too much. Love gets left behind in the modern world.'

What greeted Mrs Mizen when she ran to the bakery was a scene from hell. 'Jimmy was lying on the floor, covered in blood. He had been with his brother Harry, and he telephoned Tommy, their other brother. Tommy had my baby in his arms. He shouted: ''Don't come in, Mum, he's going to be all right.'" Frozen with fear, Mrs Mizen fainted. Moments later, Mr Mizen arrived. 'I saw the paramedics pull off their gloves. I knew in that instant that Jimmy was dead,' he says. 'It was as though the whole world had stood still for a moment. Everything went quiet, went still. There was this eerie calm. There was my boy, lying on the pavement, his life slipping away. Gone, like that. It was unbelievable, like a horrible dream.'

The night before was the last time both parents had been with their son. 'He came down to say goodbye before going out with his pals to celebrate his birthday,'' says Mrs Mizen. ''He was wearing a new striped shirt I had bought for him. He looked so smart. A fine young man. We hugged him and told him we were proud of him. Jimmy just laughed.

He always worked for his dad at his store on a Saturday, but he asked for the next day off, because he was celebrating his birthday. When his dad said yes, he said he still wanted to be paid. That was Jimmy: always larking. Always joking.'

'There are moments when it all overwhelms you,' Mr Mizen says. 'I paid Jimmy for his Saturday work by standing order. I bank online, so I had to cancel it using the computer. I held my finger over the delete button for a long time. I just couldn't bear to press it. To press delete somehow was to acknowledge he was gone and he was never coming back. To admit that I was never going to hear his laugh. Never hand him a tenner on a Saturday and tell him to buy lunch. Every week it was the same: he would ask what I wanted, and I would say, surprise me. Then I'd get the same sandwich and he would stock up on Coke and chocolate.

'Never hear him yelling: ''Where's my school shirt, mam?'' the way he did every morning. Never hear Margaret laugh and tell him: ''Jimmy, it's where I leave it out every morning.''
All those little things that make a family a unit, that make it a whole. And now there is a big, glaring gap. People say that somehow it must be easier, having so many other children. It isn't at all like that. Each one of them is unique.'

'We are a deeply committed Christian family,' Mrs Mizen explains. 'Our faith has supported us enormously. Of course, we feel the normal anger that our child has been killed, but we also have to think with compassion for the family of the person who has done this. At least we can hold our heads high over Jimmy's name. They can't do that. They are also in a very miserable place.

'As a family, we are proud of our faith. When we buried Jimmy, I told the congregation of youngsters that they, too, should be proud of their faith. Having Christian faith doesn't mean you are some boring stick-in-the-mud. Jimmy had faith. Some mornings he would join in our family Bible reading. He wasn't embarrassed. It was just part of his life.'

The Mizens' youngest son, George, nine, shared a bedroom with Jimmy and has been deeply affected by his death. No one who saw the teenager's funeral on television could fail to have been moved by the pale-faced boy carrying a portrait of his late, much-loved brother. 'We have explained it as best we can to George,' says his mother, 'and he believes Jimmy is in Heaven with his grandparents. But it's tough when he sees Jimmy's friends. They are all shattered. It is difficult for them, at that age, to understand the concept of being here one day and then, with one senseless act of violence, gone, for ever.'

In the family kitchen, a stack of envelopes sits on the sideboard. The Mizens launched an appeal to buy a minibus (which they will name the
'Jimmybus'), which will be used by the local Scout troop to which Jimmy once belonged and by their parish, Our Lady of Lourdes, in Lee, south London, where Jimmy was an altar boy.

To contribute to the Jimmybus fund, please send a cheque to: The Jimmy Mizen Minibus, Our Lady of Lourdes Church, 45b Burnt Ash Hill, Lee, London SE12 0AE,
England, United Kingdom.

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