I told them to be brave / 2


“We sat on the side of the bed and held each other. I told them Daddy would want them to be brave – a declaration I now regret.

“I know now that we should have cried our hearts out together. Because we did not, our family remained in a state of frozen grief for years

“I believed I had no right to grieve and it was very difficult to be angry at someone who had just given his life for a cause, to try to stop a war.”

Few people today have heard of Norman Morrison, but his act was front-page news around the world.

The impact in the US was mixed. Some in the media suggested that Norman must have been insane. (Anne firmly denies that.)

But many others were moved by what he had done and wrote to Anne to say so, even calling him a saint. (She denies that too.)

She kept all the letters in cardboard boxes, hauling them round from one house to another, for years too afraid to look inside.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of Norman’s death.

After decades living with the consequences, Anne has published a memoir, Held in the Light, that is heartbreaking but also inspirationally forgiving.

She talked to me about her husband and her life last week.

[Hey – thanks for reading so far. To be completely transparent, this story is from my archive. It was written a while ago. Just wanted to be clear about that]

She lives in a remote town in western North Carolina, in a bungalow with a porch and a statue of Buddha on the patio, which came with the house when she bought it.

The patio, overlooking the mountains that encircle the community, is a good place to sit and think, she says.

When Anne met Norman, nearly a decade before his death, he struck her as happy and attractive, guileless but determined.

He cared deeply about people, but could be ill at ease socially, sometimes even “off-putting and perplexing in his manner”, as she recalls.

He was intense but had a quirky, off-hand sense of humour.

Though only five when he died, Christina has a few precious memories, such as holding his hand as she walked to school.

“And laughing as he spun me round to Scottish reels.” (He was proud of his Scots heritage.)

“It’s easy for his death to eclipse or define his life. Yet my father’s life was filled with daring escapades, good work, spontaneous adventures and many moments of humour and kindness.”

So how could he end it as he did?

The day after his death, a letter arrived in Washington, addressed to Anne in Norman’s handwriting.

Dearest Anne, please don’t condemn me.

For weeks, even months, I have been praying only that I be shown what I must do.

This morning with no warning I was shown.

Interpreting his action to the children was desperately painful.

“They found more questions to ask,” Anne says. “‘Wasn’t there a better way? Why did Daddy have to be the one?’”

One day Christina uttered the heartbreaking truth: “It didn’t stop the war.”

“I wondered how the people of a distant country could be more important than us,” Christina says. “As a little girl, who wanted to feel special to her Daddy, my heart was broken, and so was Ben’s.”