This week's guest is Sarah Copland. Sarah first joined the UN as part of the Young Professionals Programme in Political Affairs. In 2015, along with husband Craig, Sarah moved to NYC for her first UN post with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in the Policy and Best Practices Service. They were in NYC for 4 years, where Isaac was born. The family then moved to Beirut for Sarah's work on women's rights and gender equality in the ESCWA Centre for Women.

On August 4th 2020, as Sarah was working and simultaneously preparing for the arrival of her second child, Ethan, she and her family were tragically caught in the vast explosion that caused devastation across Beirut. Isaac, Sarah’s first born son, was killed. Trying to understand her grief, Sarah started writing a blog, and in the process, her words have resonated with others experiencing loss.

“Writing helps me organize my thoughts because it's, it's a mess up here. There's just so much going on in my head and it helps others relate to me, I think which in turn helps me because I found in these past few months, I've shut down a lot. And it's through writing that I'm able to connect again. Because once if people can read how I feel, then that sort of opens up a door to be able to connect and talk.”


Full Transcript +


Melissa Fleming 00:06

From the United Nations, I'm Melissa Fleming. This is Awake at Night. Today, my guest is Sarah Copland, a UN officer working on women's rights and gender equality. Sarah, welcome.


Sarah Copland 00:31

Hi, thank you for having me. It's an honor.


Melissa Fleming 00:35

It's really great to have you, Sarah. Until very recently, you were posted in Beirut, and you and your husband were there in August 2020, when a huge explosion at the port destroyed much of the heart of the city. Your two-year-old son, Isaac, was one of more than 200 people who lost their lives in the blast. Can you tell me what happened that day? And where were you?


Sarah Copland 01:01

Sure. Gosh, just hearing that makes me kind of teary. So, apologies if I get a catch in my throat. So yeah, we had been in Beirut for a year; we were at home in our apartment. And I was giving Isaac his dinner. He was sitting up in his high-chair eating dinner. And my husband Craig was in the bathroom when this happened. And so, I was sitting having dinner with Isaac, singing nursery rhymes, when I heard this, this bang.


I went to the window to see if I could see anything, but I couldn't see anything. There wasn't -- I couldn't see the smoke or anything like that. And so I walked back to Isaac and I picked up my phone to see if there were any security updates from the UN because they regularly send updates on things going on. And within that time, just walking up to the window and walking back, then the huge explosion hit and I was thrown to the ground. And then Isaac -- he was hit in the chest with a piece of glass. Sorry.


Melissa Fleming 02:16

What did you do at that point?


Sarah Copland 02:19

My husband Craig came running out of the bathroom screaming our names. And we went to Isaac. And at that stage, I didn't realize quite how injured he was. And I was afraid that there might be a second blast, or I wasn't sure. I didn't know what it was, whether it was a terrorist attack, whether the city was being bombed, or what, so I grabbed Isaac and I ran to the bathroom because I thought that might be the safest place if there's a second explosion or a third because I heard the initial bang before the big one. And once I got to the bathroom, I realized how much he was bleeding. And so I wrapped him in a towel. And I just took him and ran and Craig was right behind me.


We ran out on to the street and we just saw the whole street was just destroyed. There were like, people lying on the ground covered in blood and everything was destroyed. I don't know, for me it's like a movie. Like it's so surreal. It's like it could only be a movie. And I didn't realize it at the time because I was just running on adrenaline, but I had a massive shard of glass in my face. And I didn't even feel it because I was just so focused on Isaac.


Melissa Fleming 03:29

Were you talking to him?


Sarah Copland 03:31

I was screaming. I remember this. I was screaming, ‘My baby, my baby, somebody help my baby.’ Sorry. So I was running down the streets like I had… We just ran out of the apartment with nothing but the clothes on our back and I was running down the street holding him, screaming. We eventually ran up to this bigger road. Craig took Isaac and I went and flagged down a car. This guy, he had his wife and his kids in the car, but he let us jump in his car and he drove us to the hospital.


Melissa Fleming 04:06

How long did it take to get there?


Sarah Copland 04:08

It felt like forever. He didn't take us to the closest hospital. He took us to one that was about six kilometres away. He didn't speak any English and our Arabic is terrible. So we were trying to scream to him. There were several hospitals close to us, like: ‘Go to the ones close to us. Why is he going to this one that’s so far away?’


But in hindsight, that was actually the best thing because all the hospitals close to us had been completely destroyed. And hearing about other victims – there's another family, their three-year-old daughter died, and they took her to the closest hospital, and they were turned away, and they took almost an hour to find another hospital after that. So the fact that he took us to this hospital, you know, turned out to be the best choice. But at the time, we were just like, “What are you doing? Why are you…’


Melissa Fleming 05:01

It must have been so distressing not being able to communicate and not being able to get there fast enough. And was Isaac saying anything, or?

Sarah with husband and Issac celebrating the child's birthday with a cake and candles.


Sarah Copland 05:09

No, no, he had been crying initially. And that's something that kind of stays with me. I don't know if… As a mother, you kind of learn the different cries of your children, you know, when they're hungry, when they’re just tired. But this cry that he had just… It will forever stay with me because it wasn't one I'd heard before. He was scared and confused and in pain. Then when on the way to the hospital, he started to get quiet. I was in the front seat and he was in the backseat with Craig. Craig was just trying to keep him awake, but he was fading already by then.


And this driver -- he was going like 100 Ks an hour down the wrong side of the street, the road, just to get us there as fast as possible and, you know, dodging traffic. And there was just glass all over the streets and he tried to get around that. He had two little girls in the car, and I think of them all the time and think about how traumatic it must have been for them to see Isaac so injured and to see me with glass in my face covered in blood. And I just think those poor little girls – they are probably still traumatized from that.


Melissa Fleming 06:30

When you got to the to the hospital, what happened then?


Sarah Copland 06:33

The driver inadvertently took us to the coronavirus wing of the hospital. I think we were one of the first to arrive who'd been impacted by the blast, because everyone was trying to go to these other hospitals and we turned up to the coronavirus wing, and they didn't want to let us in. But we were just so desperate. We just started screaming at these security guards to let us in and just literally ended up pushing past them. Because you know at that point in time, coronavirus was the last thing on our minds. And then when we got in, they saw immediately that Isaac was injured and they took him, and because I was injured and pregnant at the time, they…


Melissa Fleming 07:06

How many months?


Sarah Copland 07:07

Seven months.


Melissa Fleming 07:09

Oh my.


Sarah Copland 07:10

So then they took me immediately to another area to be treated. And then that was the last time I saw Isaac. So Craig stayed with him. But I didn't see him again.


Melissa Fleming 07:27

I’m so sorry. So Craig went with him into the operating theatre?


Sarah Copland 07:36



Melissa Fleming 07:36

And they tried.


Sarah Copland 07:39

They tried for hours, I think. Craig said they kept pushing him out of the operating room, but he kept on going back in because he didn't want Isaac to be alone, and he said that for long after Isaac began sort of flatlining, they were continuing to work on him and to try and do everything they could. But I think it was just… Yeah.


Melissa Fleming 08:02

It must have been terribly traumatizing for your husband to….


Sarah Copland 08:07

Oh yeah…


Melissa Fleming 08:08

…be there when he left this world.


Sarah Copland 08:11

Yeah. Yeah, I think that's something that he'll never get over. He said the sounds and that having that the doctor tell him what happened…


Melissa Fleming 08:22

What happened? What happened next when you learned that he had passed away?


Sarah Copland 08:29

So I didn't actually find out ‘til a fair bit later, because the doctors wanted to ask Craig not to tell me, to make sure that the baby was safe, and because I was badly injured, and to make sure that I was okay. So poor Craig had to hold on to it by himself for most of the night, and he just kept telling me that, you know, ‘They're still working on Isaac and he's in ICU and he’s stable.’


So, then they arranged -- the United Nations doctor, she came to the hospital, along with a counsellor from the UN. And she and Craig, the three of them, they told me what happened, which is a moment I sort of I play over in my head a lot. It’s…


Melissa Fleming 09:20

How would you describe that moment?


Sarah Copland 09:25

Like being hit with the truck. I was screaming and screaming and screaming. All I could remember people saying “It's okay, you've got to be strong for the baby, you've got to be strong for the baby” because they were really worried about the baby.


Melissa Fleming 09:42

It's very hard to be strong moments like that. What did being pregnant at that moment mean for you?


Sarah Copland 09:53

Being pregnant is, I think, what did give me some strength to sort of hold it together a little bit more. It was very confusing because I, you know, I've had these two sort of desires – one was to really just collapse and fall apart and scream and everything, and then the other was having this idea that no, that I know that stress could be bad for a baby. So, I don't know, I think in the long run, it means I've compartmentalized some of my feelings, because I didn't want to have an impact and have a negative impact on the baby. And we are still, you know, still scared that the blast may have had an impact on him because, you know, I was thrown to the floor and injured and everything. So, I think it did give me some strength to keep going to make sure that he was okay.


Melissa Fleming 10:53

And describe your injuries – what happened to you?


Sarah Copland 10:57

So, all of my injuries were, I guess, if you want to call them superficial. I had a lot of glass in my body. I mean, I've got scars basically all over now. The biggest one was in my face. But I had stitches in both hands, my knees, my feet. My feet were all cut up because we've been running on glass. In terms of injuries, compared to other people, fairly minor in the long run. But you know, I had a lot of stitches and things like that.

Family portrait at the steps of a historic site.


Melissa Fleming 11:23

At what point did you realize what had happened in Beirut?


Sarah Copland 11:29

It was sometime during the night, because a lot of people didn't know. The doctors didn't know. The nurses didn't know, I think everyone just assumed it was a terrorist attack or a bombing or something. And it took a little while to register that it was this explosion at the port.


Melissa Fleming 11:40

You had been in in Lebanon for how long?


Sarah Copland 11:43

Exactly a year.


Melissa Fleming 11:44

And you must have had friends and colleagues there. how are they?


Sarah Copland 11:50

Luckily, no one else of my friends or colleagues had someone close to them die, like we did. There were a number of people with minor injuries, but on the whole, mostly okay. The way that my UN colleagues, in particular, swung into action that night to help us was just something that I will never ever forget. Because we were in this government hospital you know, and there's no food, there's no sheets, there's no soap in the bathroom… I was told that I was incredibly lucky to get a hospital gown.


And so in the middle of the night, despite this explosion having destroyed the city, my colleagues were gathering food and clothes and toiletries and bringing them to the hospital and I didn't find out ‘til later, but Craig told me that they actually shut the hospital and so no one else could come in because they were so overwhelmed. So my colleagues had arranged, through my husband, to pass all this stuff through a bathroom window in the hospital to him to make sure that we had some supplies and they were there for us in the days afterwards as well, doing everything they could to support us.


Melissa Fleming 13:04

Describe what your life was like before. I mean, living in Lebanon, living in Beirut.


Sarah Copland 13:08

It was a fun place to be. Well, it was a fun place to be. Beirut is a very cosmopolitan city. Lots of bars and cafés, and right on the Mediterranean. So we were going out a lot. So it was a nice lifestyle for an expat. I mean, I know that it's not quite the same for a lot of Lebanese people. The Lebanese people are so welcoming. They just sort of take you in, and especially with Isaac, everybody loved Isaac, loved Isaac, so…


Melissa Fleming 13:40

What was Isaac like? How would you describe him?


Sarah Copland 13:44

Perfect. Isaac was very, very outgoing -- opposite of me in that regard. He just loved to talk to people. He was incredibly intelligent, like, very analytical mind. Whenever we got a new toy or something, he would want to examine how it worked before he used it. He was very closely trying to figure out how the parts went together and everything and he was very good at puzzles, putting things together. And he was very cheeky. He loved to make people laugh.


And my favorite thing is, he was very, very affectionate. He just loved cuddles, particularly for me, but he would cuddle his teachers at daycare. A number of times, he ran up to his little friends at day-care and tried to give them a big bear hug but accidentally bowled them over because they weren't expecting it. He just really loved being affectionate with people and having cuddles and yeah…


Melissa Fleming 14:44

You must miss him so much.


Sarah Copland 14:48

It's indescribable. It's like a physical pain. I almost say it's like that phenomenon of phantom limb, where you know, people when they lose a limb, they can still kind of feel it but it's not there. And it's kind of like that. I feel like I've lost a part of me and part of me can still feel it but it's not there.


Melissa Fleming 15:08

So you finally made it out of Lebanon because you obviously wanted to return home.


Sarah Copland 15:18



Melissa Fleming 15:18

It was time for you to have your next baby.


Sarah Copland 15:22



Melissa Fleming 15:23

Describe the obstacles you faced getting out of Lebanon, getting back to Australia.


Sarah Copland 15:30

We were already planning to come home to Australia for to have the baby. And we were actually only three weeks away from leaving Lebanon. So that's something that I find very hard to, to come to terms with. We were so close to not being there. We ended up staying in Beirut another -- I think it was -- 10 days while we organized things. And when I say we, I really mean Craig and colleagues from the UN, and my brother actually -- fortunately, he's in the army and he was posted to Oman at the time, and so he flew over to Beirut. I was in hospital for three nights. And then the UN got us a hotel outside of Beirut in the mountains, and I just stayed there.


So I never went back into our apartment or to the city, or anything like that. The doctors were quite insistent that I just sort of stay put. In those days, Craig and my brother worked with colleagues from the UN to help organize the repatriation of Isaac and we both vowed that we would not leave Lebanon until we knew Isaac was on a plane.


Melissa Fleming 16:32

When did you -- I mean, you write a blog about your loss. And what did you notice most when Isaac was no longer there?


Sarah Copland 16:50

The silence, the silence. He was such a vibrant little boy, so outgoing, so loved to talk. Our house, it just being filled with noise for two years and three months. I just remember sitting in this hotel room with Craig and it was like the first time we'd been in a hotel room together since Isaac had been born. And it was just like, it's so quiet. Even now, even with a newborn, it's just, it’s quiet.


Melissa Fleming 17:23

You also wrote on your blog, that you are still in denial and that your life is frozen, it's on hold. Does writing and talking about your experience help you in any way?

Photo of Issac at play.


Sarah Copland 17:39

Writing helps me organize my thoughts because it's, it's a mess up here. There's just so much going on in my head. It helps others relate to me, I think, which in turn helps me because I found in these past few months, I've shut down a lot. And it's through writing that I'm able to connect again, because once -- if people can read how I feel, then that sort of opens up, I guess, a door to be able to connect and talk and everything.


Melissa Fleming 18:16

One of your recent blog posts was actually re-published in The Guardian. What kind of reaction did you get?


Sarah Copland 18:24

It was overwhelming. I have had my blog on and off for a little while. And you know, no one really reads it except a couple of friends on Facebook. I had so many people reaching out to me to say that, you know, they too had lost children. I had other victims from Beirut reach out to me and say that my piece had helped put words to their grief, which was really, really touching. I felt a lot of support.


Melissa Fleming 18:52

With your writing, are you trying to do something beyond organizing your thoughts? Are you trying to send out messages in any way that you think people need to hear?


Sarah Copland 19:03

You know, it's changed now. Initially, it was just really about organizing my thoughts, but seeing their reaction, it has given me some sort of motivation to keep going. And I think for two reasons: one, I was really sort of touched by the people from Beirut who had reached out to me to say that I was helping give voice to their grief, and it made me realize that with a lot of these tragedies, particularly somewhere like the Middle East, people in the West tend to think of it as, violence in places like this is as inevitable, and so we don't think about the people behind the tragedy. And we don't think about the fact that there are 200 grieving mothers just like me there.


So, if I can keep writing and sort of putting and reminding people that there is a human face behind this tragedy, that there are mothers who feel just as deeply as I do, there are children without their parents. There are people who've lost siblings and friends. You know, that's something that I think is worthwhile.


And not that I pretend to speak for people in Lebanon. I don't at all. Their experience is very different from mine and that, you know, I could leave, and they continue to have to stay and deal with the crisis after crisis that is facing their country. So, I don't pretend to know what their experience is like. But if I can help draw attention to what's going on in Lebanon, then I think that that's important.


I've also come to realize that we're going through this unprecedented time with coronavirus. I think more people are facing grief now. It's been a long time since there's been so many people around the world who are collectively facing grief. And I think a lot of people struggle to talk about it. So, I think if I can help open up a channel of communication, help give, allow people to talk about it, to reach out to me, to share experiences, I think that's a positive, hopefully, would be a positive thing.


Melissa Fleming 21:03

I wonder, because there's been a lot written about grief, including, like the six, the five stages of grief. And now there's a researcher who recently wrote a piece for The Guardian, who added another stage, which he believes belongs there, and that is to find meaning in the life of the person who has died. Do you think that you're able to do that, or will you be, for Isaac?


Sarah Copland 21:35

It’s been something that I’ve been thinking about, and I hope to be able to do that. And I hope through writing, as well, I can show that he was he was not just a little cute kid. Even though he was little, he had a life that was valuable, and is not something that just affects my husband and I, you know, I think the world is worse off without him. And I hope that somehow I’ll be able to find some sort of…


Finding meaning, I don’t know, it’s a funny thing. You hear of people who go through tragedies, and then they say, “Oh, it was tough at the time. But, you know, I found enlightenment, I found a new perspective on life and everything. So, in the end, it was a good thing.” There is nothing at all. There’s no self-growth. There’s no meaning or anything that would replace Isaac, absolutely nothing. So it’s not finding meaning for myself, I think, because none of that is valuable to me compared to Isaac. I think if I can somehow find meaning in his life to help others, that’s where there’s value.


Melissa Fleming 22:45

I wonder how your husband Craig is coping with the tragedy?


Sarah Copland 22:51

We’re in similar stages, I think. Like me, he misses Isaac, every, every day. I mean, we're seeing a counsellor together, which I think is really, really useful. I mean, we've always been good at communicating. But you know, this time in particular, we needed to make sure that we're understanding each other and the different things that we're going through, because no two people grieve the same.


He's holding things together for myself and for Ethan. The thing that we both struggle with a lot is we both carry a lot of guilt, which everyone tells us, “It's not your fault, it's not your fault.” But as a parent, you kind of feel like, the buck stops with you. And so I replay everything that I did that day, or everything that I did that year, or everything that led me up to that point to see if I could have done something different. And Craig does the same. And so we kind of have this back-and-forth where he talks about how guilty he feels. And I say, “No, no, no, it's not your fault. You did everything.” And then I talked about how guilty I feel. And he's like, “No, no, no, it's not your fault.” Sorry, but you know, we can see it in each other, but seeing it in ourselves is a whole different story.


Melissa Fleming 23:58

In October, your son Ethan was born -- a light perhaps in the depths of all of this grief. How do you cope with both the tragedy of losing Isaac but also the joy that you must feel in your new baby?


Sarah Copland 24:16

It's very different -- very, very different experience from the first time around, I tell you that. Ethan is literally what gets me up in the morning. Like he is our little savior. He keeps us going. He gives us a reason to keep moving forward. But it also hasn't been easy trying to grieve Isaac and parent Ethan.

On the left is a photo of Issac playful and happy. On the right is of a child's high chair amidst shattered rubble, stained with blood.

If I'm having a nice moment with Ethan, then I feel, I get these feelings of guilt, like, that's not fair to Isaac. But then I sort of think, ‘but then Ethan deserves to have a mum who engages with him and laughs and whatnot’. So I feel guilty if I stop myself from doing those things. It's like, sort of stuck in between -- I can't win either way. I just feel like I'm doing wrong by one of them. If I'm having fun, I feel guilty for Isaac; if I'm holding myself back, I feel guilty for Ethan.


When I first gave birth to him, it was very difficult because he looked exactly like Isaac, and like, almost mirror image. And it was a very surreal experience because I still hadn't, and I still haven't, come to terms with the fact that Isaac was gone. And yet, I felt like I was kind of holding him in my arms. And it was a very confusing time. Luckily, Ethan is now, you know, developing his own look and personality and whatnot, and I can see him for who he is. But it was very, very confusing to start off with.


Melissa Fleming 25:47

I imagine it must be. You recently wrote in your blog that you continue to parent Isaac. How do you parent a child after he is gone?


Sarah Copland 25:58

That's something that I've been exploring over these past months and I think I will continue to explore. Because I've come to realize it's not something that you just switch off. From the moment I found out I was pregnant with Isaac, everything revolved around him, you know, everything, and then to stop is just impossible. It's just -- he's still my son, and I'm still his mother. And so I have to find ways to incorporate him in my day, every day. My dad's a wonderful photographer, and luckily he had taken some beautiful photos of Isaac. And so we have all these big photos of Isaac set up in the living room, and I spend time each day sitting with him and talking to him. I still say goodnight to him every night. We make sure we go and visit him every week in the cemetery and take flowers and tidy things up. And that's our way of taking time out of our week specifically for Isaac.


I talk about him all the time. I think that's one thing. Some people might say, “Oh, I don't want to raise his name, because I don't want to upset you.” But as a parent I want to talk about him. I'll probably drive people crazy talking about him all the time. Because he was my son, and just because he's not here doesn't mean I've stopped wanting to talk about him and everything.


The other thing that I'm doing is I'm working with a group of victims to support the push for an independent investigation into the explosion. At first, I didn't really see any point in joining this sort of fight for justice and accountability, because I was like, you know, I’d just given up. I was like, nothing's going to happen. The world moves on, people forget about it. But I realized that I have to fight for Isaac. I have to be able to look at his picture and say, I did everything I could for you to make sure that this wrong is addressed.


Melissa Fleming 28:05

What do you want to see happen? What is your demand?


Sarah Copland 28:08

Well, it starts with an independent, impartial and transparent investigation. What we've seen in Lebanon, and decades of United Nations reporting shows, that the judicial system there is inefficient. It's susceptible to corruption. It's under-resourced. It's politicized. This ammonium nitrate had been sitting in the port for seven years, and everybody knew about it up until the President. And so we need an independent investigation, in order to find out the facts to start off with, because if we don't have the facts, then there can be no accountability.


Melissa Fleming 28:40

Describe how this makes you feel that it is five months later, and there's still no investigation under way.


Sarah Copland 28:46

I don't even know how to describe it. But that's outrageous that something so catastrophic could occur. I mean, the whole city was essentially decimated. And I just want people to know Isaac's name and to know Isaac's picture and to show them that this, you know, this little boy deserved a chance at life, and it was taken from him. And there has to be some sort of justice for that. And he was not the only one. So many other people's lives were destroyed by this, and it's people who are now permanently injured, people who lost, you know, 300,000 people were homeless after this. And it's like, how do we just forget about that? And this was a man-made disaster. This was perfectly avoidable if people had done the right thing.


Melissa Fleming 29:42

I wonder what -- if you could just tell us, what took you to Beirut in the first place? What kind of work were you doing there?


Sarah Copland 29:51

Sure, so I joined the United Nations through the Young Professionals Programme. So my initial posting was in New York, where I was for four years, and that's where Isaac was born. And I was actually working in peacekeeping. Really, in my last few years in New York I had become, even though I was working in peacekeeping, I’d become more and more interested in in women's rights and then when the mobility process came up, there was a position in Beirut for the ESCWA Centre for Women. And so for me, it was an opportunity to really change my career track.


Melissa Fleming 30:19

And just describe, what is ESCWA? And what was the nature of your work in Lebanon?


Sarah Copland 30:25

Sure, so ESCWA is the regional commission. It looks, I guess, looks after the Arab states. In terms of the Centre for Women, we were focused on gender equality and women's rights in the Arab region. And what we did is we did a lot of research on different issues affecting women in the region, and then use the research and the findings and the data to really train governments, train civil society organizations on gender mainstreaming and women's issues, and use the information to sort of push for changes in legislation to better the rights of women. I was working on a report to do with domestic violence referral systems in the region. I was working on one to do with the rights of the status of Palestinian women in the occupied territories. I loved the work and I found I was really passionate about it.

Shattered glass in a bedroom full of destruction. Verandah with heavy damage.


Melissa Fleming 31:32

Was Craig, your husband, able to also find work and or was he following you?


Sarah Copland 31:37

He was following me. He did some independent consulting while we're in Lebanon. But also he was really amazing. He was the primary carer for Isaac as well. Isaac was in daycare three days a week. And then he was with Craig the rest of the time. So Craig was doing sort of freelance, part-time work and looking after Isaac.


Melissa Fleming 31:58

He's a feminist.


Sarah Copland 32:00

Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah. I wouldn't be able to have my UN career and family without his flexibility and his willingness to be that sort of, the parent who stayed at home and looked after Isaac. It was actually really, really good for them. I remember when I was on maternity leave with Isaac, I sort of took the lead on everything. And Craig was very involved, but sort of deferred to me. But once he had to look after Isaac on his own, you know, it was very different. And their relationship flourished because of it. And I think he's very grateful for the time that he had just the two of them.


Melissa Fleming 32:43

What's next for you? And you're on maternity leave now. How are you doing now? And how do you just see yourself emerging from this, both professionally and also as a family?


Sarah Copland 32:59

There's a lot of question marks about that, at the moment. I think it's just been such a whirlwind of the past couple of months, coming back to Australia, dealing with the initial fall-out of the grief, having Ethan – it's been pretty full on. At the moment, I'm taking some time off, and I'm just focused on being there for Ethan and healing as much as I can. Not that I will ever, ever be able to fully heal, but you know, as much as I can. And spending some time with family. We've been staying with Craig's parents. We're going to go spend some time with my family. They’re on the other side of Australia. And then sort of take it from there.


I loved my job in Beirut, but I don't think I could go back to Beirut. And I couldn't ask Craig to do that, either. It's just, I think it would be too painful. I hear about people who are still there, and how traumatic it is for them to walk past the signs of the explosion every day and they say it's like re-living it every day. And I know I couldn't face that. What's next? We're not 100% sure. We're just going to take some time to be as a family and to recover and look after Ethan.


Melissa Fleming 34:23

Absolutely. Well, you need that. This podcast is called Awake at Night. In every interview, I always ask that question to everyone. So, it sounds a little bit maybe odd or out of context here because I'm sure… But I will ask the question to you – Sarah, what keeps you awake at night?


Sarah Copland 34:41

Well, besides Ethan, and getting up with the baby. I'd like to say that at some big sort of philosophical question about the work of the UN or something, but at the moment, it's all Isaac. It's everything. I think the thing that I grapple with at the moment a lot is “Why him?” You know? And I don't think that we're so special that you know, we could go through this life without having any tragedy befall us. But why did it have to be Isaac? Why did it have to be the worst thing possible? I could have dealt with anything better than losing Isaac. So a lot of it is playing those questions over and over in my mind.


And also, unfortunately, particularly late at night is when I get a lot of the flashbacks from that night in Beirut, and that's yeah, that's a whole different challenge. Hearing loud sounds and you know, the wind or if it's a storm or anything, you know, makes me very nervous. If I'm closing my eyes, but I'm not really sleepy, then it's just a lot of images of what happened and everything. And that's very difficult.


Melissa Fleming 36:13

I can imagine they'll probably never leave you. I wonder is there anything -- I mean, you have one hobby writing, we know that -- do you have any other hobbies or things that you'd like to do that maybe help you in some way relieve the pain?


Sarah Copland 36:32

At the moment, it's looking after Ethan. Being able to sort of continue to provide love and care for someone it's, you know. He does not replace Isaac in any way and nor should he, but having him and being able to get up every day and look after him is something. It helps.


Melissa Fleming 36:57

Sarah, thank you so much for telling your story on the podcast.


Sarah Copland 37:03

Thank you. Thank you for having me. It's a great honor. I really appreciate it.


Melissa Fleming 37:16

Thank you for listening to Awake at Night. We'll be back soon with more incredible and inspiring stories from people working to do some good in this world at a time of global crisis. To find out more about the series and the extraordinary people featured, do visit On Twitter, we're @UN and I'm @melissafleming. Sarah is @sas_yvonne. Subscribe to Awake at Night wherever you get your podcasts and please take the time to review us It does make a difference.


Thanks to my colleagues at the UN: Roberta Politi, Darrin Farrant, Angie Boniface, Hilary He and Tulin Battikhi, and to my producers Bethany Bell and the team at Chalk and Blade: Laura Sheeter, Fatuma Khaireh, and Alex Portfelix. Special thanks to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for their support. The original music for this podcast was written and performed by Nadine Shah and produced by Ben Hillier. The sound design and additional music was by Pascal Wyse.