By Pavani Jayasinghe Munagamage
Sorrow and alarm engulfs our beautiful island and as Sri Lankans, we all grieve in unison. Whilst we were still recovering after celebrating the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, whilst our police and armed forces were finally on leave to return to their homes, tragedy struck.
As if from nowhere, Sri Lanka, regaining her strength from the wounds of a long war, slowly moving towards a peaceful nation, was struck with violence and turmoil once more leaving her citizens in a state of chaos and fear.
The coordinated attacks which took place on Easter Sunday (21 April) claimed the lives of more than 350 people whilst injuring 500. Foreigners on vacation or visiting Sri Lanka also lost their lives. Amongst the many victims of the horrors was the Allen family.
Monique Allen, a 54-year-old Dutch national, was the wife of Lewis Allen, an American. She was having breakfast with one of her three sons, Jason, inside the Cinnamon Grand Hotel while her husband and two sons, Timothy and Jasper, were up in their room. In the brief period it took for Mrs. Allen and her son to have their meal, tragedy struck.
Recalling the moment, husband Lewis Allen told the BBC: “My son Jason and my wife were sitting right next to each other. And then the explosion happened, and my son blacked out for a few minutes and he woke up and he saw his mother with a big head wound and lots of blood.”
Immediately after the explosions, the hotel security and everyone else were quick to react and had transferred Mrs. Allen to the National Hospital in Colombo. Even though this was the best possible course of action under the circumstances, this was when the Allen family broke apart. Searching frantically for his wife whilst one of his sons was being attended to by OPD services, Mr. Allen was without luck.
A group of medical students were at the hospital, ready to be of help in any way.
Amongst these medical students was Tharushihan Muhunthan, a medical student who went to the accident service ward of the National Hospital immediately after the bombings. In a Facebook post, he recounts the morning’s events: “After an hour of all the hustle and bustle inside the resuscitation room, medical students were told to stay out and calm the survivors down as the ER room was overstaffed. On returning to the surgical wards, a father and two sons from the Netherlands were seen walking around in the accident service OPD. When we went and offered help, they said they’re searching for their mother who was injured while having breakfast with her eldest son at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel that morning.”
Muhunthan goes on to explain in the post that with this information and a photo of Mrs. Allen, the group went in search of Lewis Allen’s beloved missing wife.
They initiated the search at the neurotrauma ward. Not finding her there, they searched areas from the neurosurgery theatres to the ICUs to the OPD, finding masses of injured people, but not the one they were searching for. Losing hope, they sought guidance from the staff and nurses currently in panic to save lives. At this point, the question they were dreading the most was raised: “Did you check the mortuaries?”
With a heavy heart, visiting the hospital mortuary and not finding her there, they proceeded to the Police mortuary situated on Francis Road. It was 1 p.m. by the time they reached; the place was crowded with people just like them, crying upon finding their loved ones dead or at having not found them at all.
Mr. Allen, speaking to BBC, said: “We went to the mortuary, and they pulled back sheet after sheet. And I was praying, let that not be Monique, let that not be Monique. And then they lifted the sheet on one and it was my wife. I was in shock. I thought I was having a nightmare. I didn’t think it was real.”
Tharushihan, who was a bystander to the entire moment, said: “Traumatic brain injury, they said, caused her death. The sons collapsed and started crying, but Mr. Lewis Allen, following a brief period of tears, thanked everyone there who helped them find his wife, before joining his sons again. A gentleman.”
The Allen family, recently with the support of three other members, had donated Rs. 25 million to building the paediatric unit at the Ratnapura Provincial Hospital in the loving memory of their late son Justin Allen who died in an accident while skiing in Nepal.
We spoke with Ratnapura Teaching Hospital Director A.K.P. Ranaweera, who said: “Four people donated towards this hospital we created. One of them was Mr. Allen; in the memory of his son who passed away in Nepal.”
Monique Allen had been visiting Sri Lanka after four whole years, just in time to see the creation they had built together. At the end of the visit, Monique Allen herself had proposed that they should get together again to extend the unit by two more floors to complete the five-storeyed paediatric unit.
The Allen family also had many business friends in Sri Lanka, like Punsiri Thenakoon, the Director of Punsiri Gems.
Talking exclusively to The Sunday Morning Brunch, Thenakoon shared: “It’s a disgracefully sad event that occurred last week. I was one of the partners that joined in with Lewis to contribute to making the paediatric unit. That project has been going on for over two years now, and Mr. Allen used to make frequent visits to Sri Lanka, but this was the first time in years he brought his family along. Arriving on the 16th to leave on the 21st, it was just for the purpose of this hospital. But then this took place.
“My wife and I knew Lewis and Monique. They are a family that dearly loved this country. She was, in fact, the inspiration for the next two floors which will be built in the future to complete this building. Lewis talked to me recently as well, about returning to this country, both to see that the work is put in place to build the unit and to pay his respects to his wife.”
The funeral was held at Thenakoon’s house, where Mrs. Allen was buried in a traditional Sri Lankan-Buddhist manner, and at the end, Mr. Lewis was apparently grateful that his wife’s soul was now at peace, surrounded by the compassion that Sri Lanka had given them so far.
Mr. Allen said to the BBC: “She was the best wife, the best mother, the best daughter. She was very kind, very selfless. She always thought of herself last. My wife loved Sri Lanka, and she was so happy, and I think, maybe it was her destiny.”