Despite the solemnity of the subject, writing obituaries is not an unpleasant experience. There is significant satisfaction to be derived from remembering people rather than merely letting them fade as if they had never existed to begin with. For friends in particular the sadness of their passing never forces into the shadows the way they could light up the lives of others.
Cassie Black who died in April was a friend and a very good one at that. When in 1996, I first moved into Springhill one of the first families I got to know in the street was the Blacks. Cassie and Dessie lived just across from me while a daughter Brenda lived in the cul de sac facing our own. They were grandparents at the time and had seen plenty in the estate where they lived. Springhill people endured quite a lot during the conflict including the "Springhill Massacre" in June 1972 when British army snipers murdered five unarmed civilians, three under the age of 20. Less than a year earlier in the same general locality British paratroopers had perpetrated the Ballymurphy massacre. None of those involved in either massacre have ever been brought to account. They never will be. It was against this background of incessant political violence and British state terrorism that Cassie Black brought up her family.
Having met them I spent time in their home almost every day, usually for a cup of tea and a chat. Really good people they would, to use that old Belfast phrase, have given you the shirt off their backs. Dessie would drop everything and race over to attend to something in need of fixing in the house given that I had hands like feet. Each time Cassie would go to the shops she would call on me to inquire if I wanted something picked up, sparing me a journey.
Even after they moved out of Springhill and up to Moyard on the other side of the Springfield Road I continued to call in on them every so often, once leaving my old desktop computer with Dessie. He took to it like a duck to water. Computers and the internet opened up a whole new world to the man. Equipped with a mind that could cope with puzzles, it was no surprise that he enjoyed the challenge posed by the games. Cassie would banter that I should have given it to him years earlier, it would have kept him from beneath her feet.
For the time that I lived beside them in Springhill apart from the 1996 festivities, which I celebrated in Nottingham, I spent part of each Christmas Day with them. When the intimidation and ostracism started coming my way the Blacks’ door was always open in that neighbourly fashion. Cassie was dismayed at seeing her neighbours in distress whether at the hands of the state or those purporting to be defending the community.
When I talked with Dessie on the phone a few weeks after Cassie died, it was not a wholly sad occasion. He spoke at length about his wife and the things they shared, their children, their grandchildren, the happiness she was capable of generating.
Cassie Black went about her life quietly and caringly. She radiated warmth and made life easier for those around her. She shared what little she had. Sharing some time with her memory on Christmas Day is nothing less than she deserved. The words of Steve Maraboli easily fit her.
I don't want my life to be defined by what is etched on a tombstone. I want it to be defined by what is etched in the lives and hearts of those I've touched.
I am happy to have been among that number.