With the death of journalist Lyra McKee at the hands of so-called dissident Republicans, Emmet Ryan reflects on a few days he’d rather forget but knows it’s important not to
We buried a friend today. An early train up to Belfast to grab one of the last seats at the back of the church a full hour before the ceremony, followed by two hours of reflecting and grieving. This was not the column I ever wanted to write. Nor was the one I did for my day job last Friday morning.
When I got up last Friday, there was writing to be done…for BallinEurope. I’d ploughed through my day job work that week to free up time to finish a profile on a player most of you have never heard of but I find fascinating.
A little after 9am, I sleep heavily, I reached for my phone and, like so many of you, I immediately check my Facebook timeline. Then I saw the news. Lyra had been shot dead while covering riots in Creggan, a part of Derry/Londonderry (Lyra referred to it as Legen-Derry to eschew the naming dispute), by a bunch of assholes whose motives don’t merit being brought up.
We weren’t terribly close but we were friends. I’d met her at a freelance event we were both speaking at a few years ago and we’d stayed in touch pretty regularly ever since, sharing stories about the ludicrous side of this business.
That Friday, there was a lot of going through the motions in the most horrific of manners. Explaining to people that I’d need to defer meetings because a friend had been shot dead overnight. With the guys on the podcast, they really couldn’t have been more supportive. Aris and Moshe understood from the off and were there for me.
So many of you have also reached out in the last few days and, for that, I am truly thankful.
I texted my boss within a few minutes of seeing the news, having still not processed it by any reasonable standard. I was in work a couple of hours later, we spoke, and I went to work because it was all I knew to do then.
That afternoon was the first vigil, organised by a couple of young people who didn’t even know her but were touched by what she did. Those gathered, well we cried, we hugged, and walked away unsure of what was next.
The unfortunate fortune of working in the media is that it was easy to reach out to people covering without a deep personal connection to the story, to keep track of what else was going to happen and to know when to travel to Belfast for the final goodbye.
That evening, the idea of watching basketball just really didn’t appeal. Game 2 of the Euroleague playoffs were under way but this was not the time to try and mentally connect to something with such an emotional connection for me when my feelings were naturally in such a different place.
So I met a couple of the lads for a few quiet drinks, being careful to take it easy. The next day, I slept ok. The days since, not so much. I’ve been shitting for Ireland and waking up after only a handful of hours. I’m seeing my shrink on Friday and if it’s still an issue then, we’ll deal with it.
A movie night at a friend’s on Saturday was a bit of a distraction but my phone was attached to my hand stronger than ever as I furiously checked in on updates around her. My smoking, well it’s been a bit out of hand. I guess this mad combination is how my body handles grief.
Sunday and Monday were quiet, I got rest and managed to even turn on the NBA playoffs on Sunday. Then it was back to work on Tuesday. An interview off-site before going into the office. Everyone was cool and they’ve been very understanding. There was another vigil that evening. There were more tears, more hugs, then home to sleep before today’s train.
I’m lucky, I get to do a job I adore full-time and run a site that a bunch of you enjoy part-time and both have enabled me to meet more interesting people from all kinds of backgrounds. They’ve led to some great friendships and enabled me to see places I wouldn’t have gotten around to with a regular 9 to 5.
I’ve embedded two videos in this piece that I would implore you all to watch. The first is a letter Lyra wrote as a 24 year old to her 14 year old self about coming out and the other challenges she would face in life. The second is a TED talk she gave.
Lyra was a hell of a journalist who fit all the traits required. She was fearless, diligent, and knew how to not take life too seriously all at the same time. Seek out her work online to see what I mean.
A fund to cover the cost of her funeral expenses and to create a bursary in her name has been created as well. You can support that here.
Today, I’m sitting outside a Starbucks about two hours since the ceremony ended. I’m waiting for a train home. We’ve all had to grieve in our lives, it doesn’t get any easier no matter where you are in life or the circumstances of their passing.
In the morning, I get back to the beat as a journalist. You pick it up, you use that pain, and you make things better. Even if it’s just to inform the world about a random baller, fuck it there’s a story worth telling. The job is to tell stories. Lyra did that as well as anyone. Tomorrow, it’ll be time to go to work but today, all I want to do is say goodbye to a friend and tell you why you’d have want to have met her.
Top pic: The pride flags fly outside the Irish Congress of Trade Unions building in Belfast next to St Anne’s Cathedral for the funeral of Lyra McKee.