The first thing 16-year-old Tharindu* heard when he regained consciousness in a ward at the Nawaloka hospital in Negombo, was a cacophony of screams. “There were all these people in beds around me, and they were all injured in some way,” he said. “Some of their families were there as well, crying beside them.”
Tharindu remembered that he was at first scared and confused. “[But] a short while later the pain kicked in, and I began to scream as well,” he said.
Tharindu was attending Easter Sunday mass at St. Sebastian’s church in Katuwapitiya with his mother, when one of six coordinated terror explosions occurred. His mother suffered major injuries in the attack, which she ultimately succumbed to.
Tharindu’s injuries —though not as grave —required surgery, with a lengthy recovery process and extensive hospital care. Six pieces of shrapnel had pierced through his body, the most serious one lodging itself in his left lung, impairing his breathing, and requiring a tube to be inserted into his chest.
Tharindu’s father, Pujitha Jayasinghe*—who did not attend mass that day— was not allowed to visit his son in hospital, as he had been recovering from an infection to his foot, and could not risk transmitting it to patients. During his time in the ICU, Tharindu’s communication with his father was limited to the phone, and his family decided to wait until he was discharged to break the news about his mother’s death.
“I figured out that [my mother] passed away on my own,” Tharindu told Roar Media. “When her cousin came to visit me, he told me that she was in Wattala. It didn’t sound right to me, because my father was in Negombo, and if she was alive, they would have been together,” he said.
“When he said that, I knew that she was dead.”
Tharindu underwent his surgeries at a public hospital, and therefore, did not incur any major costs for his procedures. But finances have been difficult to manage. As his father, Jayasinghe, is suffering from an infection of the foot—detected two years ago in Bahrain, where the family was domiciled—he is now unable to be the breadwinner of the family.
Jayasinghe and his son did receive compensation from the government—Rs. one million for the loss of his wife (of which Rs. 900,000 has been given) and a further Rs. 100,000 for the injuries sustained by Tharindu. But Jayasinghe is still concerned about money.
“People have also been very kind, and are helping me financially, but I can only depend on their kindness for so long. I will have to figure out how I can earn money here once I am better,” he said.
It was multiple failed diagnoses and treatment in Bahrain that caused Jayasinghe to move back to Sri Lanka. The treatments prescribed by local doctors were much more effective, and Jayasinghe’s condition was gradually improving. Before his wife's death, he was planning on moving the family back to Bahrain as soon as he healed, so that he could return to his job. Now, that may not happen.
“My son likes his life here. He enjoys his school, and has made some really great friends in this country. If his mother was here, it wouldn’t have been so difficult for him to leave, but now that he has lost her, I don’t want to uproot him again,” he said.
In the aftermath of the terror attack on Easter Sunday that killed 260 people, the government of Sri Lanka promised it would compensate victims and their families. Arrangements were made to pay Rs. one million to the families that lost a loved one, while those injured would receive up to a maximum of Rs. 500,000, depending on the severity of the injury.
Despite this financial compensation, victims and their families are struggling to support themselves since the attacks.
Six-year-old Anna* lost both her parents and suffered critical injuries in the explosion at the Zion Evangelical Church in Batticaloa. In addition to having shrapnel removed from multiple parts of her body, she has permanently lost sight in her right eye, and is temporarily unable to see with her left eye.
Having been in the ICU for over a month, Anna was finally moved to a ward, where she is slowly recovering. In the absence of her parents, her paternal uncle (39) has been named guardian.
While Anna has received compensation from the government— as part of a trust fund set up by the National Treasury, intending to support children orphaned by the Easter Sunday terror attacks—the money can only be accessed when she turns 18.
“I am covering her medical expenses on my own, which has been difficult,” her uncle said. “I have to buy her medications as well as pay the consultation fees, and I have had to borrow a lot of money from a friend as a result of this.”
The uncle has also taken on the care of Anna’s older brother who escaped the blast with injuries. As the legal guardian to both children, he has incurred a multitude of expenses, which stretch far beyond his ability. School supplies, clothes and food are some of these, and he is daunted by the enormity of the responsibility.
“I am not sure how I will do it,” he said. “I just want to make sure that I do right by these children. They do not deserve to have experienced [what] has happened to them.”
Physical And Financial Aftercare
For those affected by the terror attacks on Easter Sunday, the road to recovery is long — and support cannot be quantified by means of a single payment. For children like Anna, who have suffered permanent injuries as a result of the attacks, the cost of recovery extends far beyond the confines of the hospital.
If Anna’s sight does not return, she will need to be taught to read in Braille, and would also need specialised education and care to ensure she can live with her disability. Even if she were to regain vision in one eye, she would still need support and help to cope.
This is also true for Arun*, (12), who was caught in the blast at the Zion Evangelical Church in Batticaloa. Arun had shrapnel lodged all over his body, and especially his abdomen, causing intense pain. Unable to immediately pinpoint what was wrong, doctors had focused on removing the shrapnel from his abdomen, a procedure that resulted in as much three metres of his intestines being removed.
It was only later discovered that he had multiple fractures on his legs, requiring further surgery to insert metal plates to align them.
Arun is still recovering from his multiple surgeries, and is bedridden until his injuries—especially the ones on his legs— are healed. Large scars from his first surgery mark his abdomen and he must visit the hospital regularly for medication and to have his wounds re-dressed.
For his single mother, the financial strain has caused great anxiety, and threatens to overwhelm her.
“The government paid 25% of the cost for the surgeries,” she told Roar Media. “All the other expenses we have to manage.”
Arun’s mother quit her job to take care of her son, and her estranged husband is a school teacher, unable to provide much for her three children.
“After this situation, we have got into a lot of trouble,” she said. “Our future is uncertain and there is a lot of problems and a lot of pain that we are bearing.”
Coping With Grief And Loss
Tharindu has taken it upon himself to manage the grief of losing his mother on his own, believing that it is now up to him to take on more responsibilities in the household.
“I feel that now that my mother is gone, I need to help my grandmother out more, and I need to help my dad through his recovery as well,” he said.
He also expressed a desire to improve in his studies, hoping to be one day able to support his family, and relieve some of the financial pressure on his father. The way in which he speaks about his future displays a self-assurance and maturity far beyond his years — maturity he has been forced to acquire overnight.
When the conversation shifts back to his mother, he recalls a traumatic moment he faced while in the ICU.
“On my fifth day in the ICU, the patient in the bed next to me passed away. His family was there and they started crying, and that was when I started crying too, because I thought of mum. I think that was when I accepted that she was gone.” As he says this, his voice quavers for the first time.
These are the stories of just three children affected by the Easter Sunday attacks. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjit recently announced that 167 children have lost either one or both their parents in the Easter Sunday terror attacks. Scores more have been left injured or impaired from the blasts, and continue to struggle with recovery.
*All of the names have been changed to protect the identity of minors and their families.