By SHEILA HAMILTON
Rev Colin McIntosh.
Tonight at 7pm, the bereaved parents of Dunblane will light a candle in the windows of their homes to mark the first anniversary of the slaughter of their children.
Indeed, there will be few windows in Dunblane where a candle does not shine to show how the memories of the lost children and schoolteacher Gwen Mayor shine on the town.
These candles will also symbolise a community at one with itself.
If there have been rifts in Dunblane in the last few months, the Rev Colin McIntosh, minister of Dunblane Cathedral, believes they are now healed.
"There was a tense period just prior to Christmas and maybe that sort of thing is to be expected when a community is coping with something as traumatic as this," he said.
"But I think we learned a few lessons from it. I think in a sense the tensions were a positive experience in that it helped us understand each other a little bit better, and I feel that since then we have done so.
"I have the sense, particularly as this anniversary is approaching, of the community being quite at one and feeling the same things - a sadness as we look back and a desire to be of help and of support to one another.
As a Glaswegian who came to Dunblane nine years ago, he says: "I have seen the strength that exists within the close-knit community which perhaps you would not find in a city."
It was the parents' specific request that no special service or event be planned for this most harrowing of weeks.
"They said they wanted it to be a quiet and private time," said Mr McIntosh. "All that will happen tomorrow is that all our churches will be open throughout the day and into the evening and people can come for times of quietness if they wish.
"The candles are intended as a silent tribute and as part of the whole atmosphere of quietness, and I hope there will be a calm throughout the community."
Mr. McIntosh conducted the memorial service in October and at that time he said: 'We are still in darkness. But we believe we will reach the light.'
And now he believes Dunblane is beginning to glimpse that light.
"I think we would have to say there have been different ways in which some good has come out of this," he says.
"The strength that the families have received from one another and the way they have been able to help each other has been tremendous.
"Undoubtedly, the parents are still finding their comfort in each other. It's perhaps only the parents who can fully understand the other parents so they have derived a tremendous strength from that.
"An even stronger sense of community within Dunblane has been a good thing. I would only repeat that I have the sense that the community is very much wanting to give its help and support and its understanding.
"The gun legislation is perhaps one example of how some good has been wrought of this tragic event and we can hope perhaps a similar thing is less likely to happen again."
Rev McIntosh talks to Prince Charles at the memorial service. Some of the parents have said recently that they want to start new lives away from Dunblane.
"I think all bereaved people come to a stage where they do have to take stock and consider how their future is going to work out," says Mr McIntosh.
"Maybe none of us should read too much into what has been said. I have not discussed it with them, but all bereaved people must come to a stage where they consider where their future is going to be.
"And in that sense, it is a positive thing if they are beginning to think of the future.
"I'm sure that there is hurt in all the people who have been very much affected by this. It couldn't be any other way."
Hurt too for the comforters. And who comforts them?
"It's been the most difficult year of my ministry," Mr McIntosh admits readily.
"There's no doubt about that. But at the end of the day, I always have to say 'I have not lost anyone'. And any difficulty or any pain I have felt, it just does not compare.
"But it's been a difficult and exhausting year with many different demands.
"No matter the context in which we're meeting people, it so often comes round to the tragedy of last year and you have to talk about that."
In many ways, he would say, his own faith has been strengthened in the course of this past year.
"I think my feeling is, I don't know how I could have faced an experience like this without a faith.
"When people say how could God let this happen, where was God? I've always tried to resist giving a neat, pat answer. To be honest, I'm not sure that people are looking for an intellectual answer.
"I think when that question is asked in helplessness and despair, it's a cry for help. How can I cope with this? How can I get through this?
"I think the response, therefore, is to try and give the help because I think that that is what people are actually asking for."
From the beginning, each church was given responsibility to care for some families, so that there are some with whom he has maintained regular contact.
For the bereaved families themselves, this past year has been simply a battle to survive.
"They have not had time or space to stop or think about faith," Rev McIntosh admits.
Unfailingly courteous, he has dealt with the relentless demands of the world's media.
"That's something we have simply had to accept over the past year. You could not have expected that event to take place and not be subject to the world's interest.
"But I can't deny that there has been immense strain through the year. It has been a hard year," he says quietly.
"But I couldn't have any other way. In a sense, I suppose, that is what I'm here for. To be available to people. That's my job. And I'm happy to do that if I can be of help.
"So, yes, there is a cost involved and so much of my work over the past year has been given over to little else but trying to help."
His wife, Linda, a schoolteacher who travels daily to Glasgow, and his daughters, now 18 and 19, all understand, he says.
"One hopes the family relationship is sufficiently strong to be able to withstand that kind of strain. My wife's role has been to help and support me and she has done that."
The church has offered help. "Other than that, there have been one or two people within the community I have been able to go to and talk things over with and that has been a big help to me."
The grieving at Dunblane will go on for a long time, he knows that, and there will be many hurdles still to be faced.
But Mr McIntosh hopes that time will now be given the chance to do its healing.
"My hope for the future is that when the first anniversary has passed, we can simply continue our journey.
"The significance of tomorrow is that we have been through all the first birthdays, the first Christmas, the first return to school and the first anniversary.
"We have accomplished all that and if a year ago, we had stopped to think of all we had to get through, perhaps we would have felt we could never do it.
"But we have and I think we can take confidence from that."
The Evening Times On-Line: 12 March 1997
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