Relatives of tsunami victims come together to mourn

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The Independent Online

The sun set over the Andaman Sea on Christmas Eve as relatives of British victims in the tsunami in southern Thailand gathered to share their grief.

The remembrance service, held on the rooftop of the Graceland Hotel in Patong Beach on Phuket, was "very very emotional", said Lord Triesman, the Foreign Office minister.

During the service, he read three verses from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Christmas Poem: "Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky ... Ring out the old, ring in the new ... Ring out the grief that saps the mind ... Ring in redress to all mankind".

Howard Digby-Johns, a lay preacher and Phuket-based publican, led the service and stressed the need to strike a balance between the occasion of Christmas - usually one of celebration - and the obvious need for mourning among the 50 or so family members who turned up. In an earlier interview, he spoke of how one year was a good time to make a ceremony for grieving, but stressed the need now to "tie it all up in a packet with a ribbon and put it to one side".

"They've chosen to come back and stand in the place that they lost those they loved. That's not easy," Lord Triesman said after the service. "The reality is that you meet people who have gone through terrible things."

The minister had laid a wreath at the Mai Khao cemetery memorial wall earlier in the day. This white plywood construction at the entrance to the former base of corpse identification units remains a moving testament to the dead and to those who worked for a year among them.

But ceremonials are not what some of the British relatives have come to Phuket for. Tal Berman Howarth, who lost her brother, Avadya Berman, and his girlfriend, Nikki Liebowitz, to the tsunami when it washed over Phi Phi a year ago, was on her way to the islands, south-east of Phuket, for three days. "I won't have so much with the ceremonies. I'm sure they'll be nice but they won't be me and mine. I'll trust my instincts, I'll do my own," she said.

Ann Knowles and her daughter, Hazel, from Manchester, were at the service to mark the death of Ann's sister, Sally MacGill, and Ann's niece. "It was nice to come out to Thailand to see where they were [when they died] and to see what attracted them," she said.

"I actually think that there is a sense in which parts of the British character come through in these disasters," added Lord Triesman.

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