As It Happens

After London attack, mom of 7/7 bombings victim tells families: 'Allow grief to do its work'

It has been nearly 12 years since Julie Nicholson lost her daughter in London's 7/7 bombings. Now she has some words for families going through the same process today.
It's been nearly 12 years since Julie Nicholson, left, lost her 24-year-old daughter Jenny in the London 7/7 bombings. (Julie Nicholson)

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It has been nearly 12 years since Julie Nicholson lost her daughter in London's 7/7 bombings, and now she's watching other families go through the same process of public mourning. 

Jenny Nicholson was 24 years old when she and 51 others were killed in the July 7, 2005, suicide bombings in metropolitan London. The attacks were carried out by Islamist extermists. 

Her mother was consumed by grief in the months after the attack. She would end up leaving the parish where she was a vicar. Nicholson wrote book about her experience called A Song For Jenny.

Now, after three attacks in England in as many monthsAs It Happens host Carol Off spoke with Nicholson about what it's like to see other families on the news in similar circumstances. Here is part of their conversation.

Carol Off: What do you think families of the victims are going through? 

Jenny Nicholson: I think it's really important to acknowledge that for every family and every individual within that family, their grief and their response to shock and trauma will be unique. 

Having said that, you know, I often hear media say these are families in grief. Well, my response to that is that the grief has barely begun yet for those families from those three attacks in London and Manchester. 

I would not offer advice, because I think that would be intrusive and it would be a little arrogant on my part. All I would say is just be true to how it is for you.- Julie Nicholson

CO: Where was Jenny, your daughter, going that day?

JN: Jenny was on her way from Reading into central London where she worked. She was on her normal route which was [a train] and she just never arrived. We later found out, ironically, that because there was a mechanical problem on one of the subway lines, she had to divert. And it was because of that diversion that she was caught up in the bombing. 

CO: Can you tell us about Jenny?

JN: She was a typical 24-year-old young woman who had a good degree and a master's behind her. She was looking at now building a career in the world of music and the arts, and was deeply in love with her partner and really looking forward to life — as were many on that day.

She was bubbly and vibrant and, I think, a very caring and compassionate person who I think would have had a lot of sympathy and sensitivity to the plight of a lot of Muslims in the world today.

Muslims attend an event near the scene of the recent attack at London Bridge and Borough Market in central London. (Stefan Wermuth/Reuters)

CO: This is a public death. These are international news stories. How does that change one's ability to sort of cope and to get through?

JN: It makes it very much harder to sort of withdraw and to be isolated. I mean, really, unless one is going to go to a desert island where there's no technology and no outside world, it's a constant barrage and there's a tremendous interest in the people who have died and their families.

I was a vicar at that time, and there ws a lot of interest as to how I would respond to the event.

I think people sort of went along with the rhythm of the public interest for five years until the inquest. And after the inquest, a lot of us said, "That is it. We will take our children, our husbands, our wives back into us and out of the public eye."

CO: You decided, though, that you couldn't continue in that job as a vicar. Why not?

JN: I had two other children ... and I felt that it was just too much to try and be a priest and a vicar when what I really needed to do was be a mother and look after my family first and foremost.

I also felt that on a very profound level that I could not stand behind the alter week after week inviting people to come to the communion and the Eucharist and speak words of peace of reconciliation and forgiveness when I felt so far distanced from those things myself.

A family grieves as they stand next to a memorial to victims of the July 2005 bombings in London. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

CO: The one that detonated the bomb that killed your daughter, Mohammad Sidique Khan, have you ever been able to forgive him?

JN: No, I don't suppose so.

I think, in the beginning, I needed to almost recite his name as a mantra. And I suppose that that's the whole kind of disbelief thing. But I needed to keep him in my head alongside my daughter because he was involved in her death.

And I didn't think about forgiveness for quite some time in relation to him until some months after 7/7, I was asked if I forgave him. And without thought, very instinctively, I knew that I didn't.

CO: There are now many families who are still in that state of shock. There's a family here in Canada. One of the victims was Canadian. What is the best advice you can give to those who are trying to...

JN: Oh, look, I would not presume to give advice. It's Chrissy, isn't it? The young woman who was killed?

CO: Yes.

B.C. woman Christine (Chrissy) Archibald, was one of seven people killed in the London attack. (Archibald family)

JN: I would not offer advice, because I think that would be intrusive and it would be a little arrogant on my part.

All I would say is just be true to how it is for you. Don't allow anyone else to tell you how you should be. Be true to yourself. Mourn your daughter. Mourn that person you love.

And be honest with your feelings and allow the process of grief, allow the shock and the trauma, to do its work. And then allow grief to do its work. And although it may feel an impossible task now, you will come through it.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more, listen to our conversation with Julie Nicholson.

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