IT'S the task of the living to decide how the dead are remembered. Never more so than in the case of sudden, violent death.
Michaela Harte's distraught widower, John McAreavey, took on that task yesterday. The young Down footballer did his best to tell the world about his wife, about the uncomplicated, even old-fashioned love that had enmeshed the two of them.
Michaela's father had already talked of her as a "gem." John McAreavey said she was a gift from God and that his world had revolved around her. His emotional statement acknowledged that he was "devastated" that their life together was over, but the saddest thing about it was that he couldn't move away from the present tense. He simply couldn't write about Michaela as if she was history.
"I love my wife very, very much," he said. "I can't describe in words how lost I feel as Michaela is not just the light of my life -- she is my life. My beautiful wife, my best friend, my rock Michaela, has been taken from me and I still can't take it in."
The two of them glowed in the wedding pictures taken less than two weeks before Michaela's death -- a good-looking sportsman and a beautiful teacher, committed to each other with a passion.
It was chilly and cheerful, and filled with Christmas music as well as wedding music. It included those lines where a couple talk about spending the evening together:
"To face, unafraid,
"The plans that we've made,
"Walking in a winter wonderland..."
That about summed it up. They were marrying relatively young. They were friends -- such friends that John McAreavey describes his later wife as his "rock." And they were facing, unafraid, the plans that they'd made as they walked out of the church that day into a winter wonderland.
Michaela's death was so shocking that even the uninvolved were floored by it. For John Mc Areavey, it must have felt as if the world had ended.
His reality was a love story being lived out. His wife left him for a few minutes and didn't return. When he went looking for her, he encountered a horror the like of which most human beings will never experience in the entire course of their life. He was alone in chaos in a foreign country.
He was, according to relatives, "paralysed" by Michaela's death. And yet, even within hours, he sent home a message. Just a sentence. In the present tense. "I love my wife."
It wasn't flowered up with the language of church eulogies. It wasn't "improved" by a hired scriptwriter. It was the simple truth. Not from a murder victim's widower, but from the husband of a beloved wife, still clinging to that love past the reality of her death.
Yesterday, the widower got together a more formal, but no less passionate message.
"I appreciate all the prayers and messages of support," the statement said. "I pray that God gives us the strength and faith that Michaela has to cope with our horrific loss."
The most touching thing about those two sentences is that they make no sense, at first glance.
And then you realise he is praying for the strength and faith he associated with his wife -- but talking of her as if she was still alive. It is the best gift he will ever make to Michaela: to force the rest of us past the nature of her death to see her through his eyes: ever young, ever beautiful, ever strong and loving.
John McAreavey has ensured the couple's love transcends the violence that killed her.