HE IS three weeks old, and his name is Lucian. It means light. On the eve of the 25th anniversary of Britain’s biggest terrorist atrocity, his remarkable story sheds light and hope upon one of the darkest episodes in Scotland’s history.
Lucian’s parents, Americans Sonia Stratis and Chris Tedeschi, would never have met were it not for the Lockerbie bombing. Both lost relatives that night and first encountered each other 20 years later, at a memorial dinner. Their shared grief brought them together, and they married in 2010. A quarter of a century on from the bombing, they will return to this year’s memorial with their young family.
“Who would have thought as a seven-year-old 25 years ago, mourning the loss of my father, that through this tragedy that broke my world, I would meet my husband and a new beautiful life would emerge from it?” Stratis asks now, speaking to Scotland on Sunday from Boston where she lives with her family.
Stratis’s father Elia was flying home for Christmas on 21 December 1988 after a business trip to the Netherlands. He had not been due to catch a flight until the 22nd, but had checked out of his hotel a day early, keen to get home for the traditional family holiday party. Bill Daniels, whose widow Kathy is Tedeschi’s stepmother, was also on board Pan Am Flight 103 when it exploded over Lockerbie killing 270 people.
The youngest of three children, Stratis’s memories of that night are still clear. When her mother Mary Kay heard the initial reports on the radio it did not even occur to her that her husband might be onboard. It took hours before the family realised he had probably taken the doomed flight.
“I remember my mother’s cousins coming to our house and then I remember our pastor coming,” says Stratis.
“Then my siblings and I were called downstairs and I remember sitting at my mother’s feet and being told that my father wasn’t coming home. I was confused at the time and thought that he was just not going to be able to make it home for Christmas, but over time it slowly sank in that he wasn’t coming home at all.”
She says her mother worked hard to keep things together for the family.
“My mother always kept my father’s memory alive, so much so, that it only dawned on me years later that I was raised in a single-parent household,” she says.
“My mother also tried to keep our lives as normal in other respects as possible. We were already active in school and sports and other activities, so she encouraged us to maintain and excel in whatever we were already doing or had a desire to try.”
In college she kept abreast of the case, and her mother was in court in the Netherlands on 31 January 2001 to hear Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi found guilty of the bombing. Finding peace, Stratis says, has not been easy.
“I have peace about the loss of my father, but I think it would be hard to have peace with an act of terrorism. I have released those who have enacted this crime, but still feel that people should be held responsible for their actions. Walking the balance of justice and grace is always a tightrope, but that is where true peace lies, I’ve found.”
She met Tedeschi at a 20th anniversary memorial dinner in Virginia five years ago. His stepmother Kathy Daniels had lost her first husband in the Lockerbie bombing, and Tedeschi had been raised alongside their three children.
“There was a dinner for the families the night before the memorial and I met him there, even though I had known his step family for years,” she says. “We spent time talking that night along with his step brother and another fellow who had lost his father on the flight. After that we started talking on the phone and then he began pursuing me with the goal of a relationship.”
The couple married in 2010 – a year and a day after Megrahi’s release from prison in Scotland. She carried a picture of her father in her bouquet so he could still “walk her down the aisle,” and President Barack Obama sent the couple a good luck message.
“Though the pain of your shared loss brought you together, your wedding marks a new beginning and the start of a lifelong partnership,” the president wrote.
That loss has, says Stratis, helped bind them as a couple. “I think having the perspective that good can come from bad certainly helps in a marriage,” she says.
“We are not stuck as victims of our circumstances and we can look to the future with hope even if we don’t know what it will hold. We do talk about these things and it is helpful to have a husband who can have empathy for my loss because of the family that he was brought in to.”
Their first son, Joshua Elia, is now two, and was named after the grandfather he will never know. Stratis talks to him about his “Papou” – Greek for grandpa, all the time, and he now recognises his pictures. She hopes Lucian, who was born in November, will follow suit. But there are times when Stratis still feels the loss acutely.
“Every year Father’s Day and my father’s birthday are very close together and it is always a hard time for me,” she says. “On my wedding day, I obviously missed my daddy walking me down the aisle and dancing with me, but my mother and I also have a special bond and we found a way to make it special for us while honouring my father.”
She has visited Lockerbie, and hopes one day to take Joshua and Lucian to the crash site. “I love the whole of Scotland, and Lockerbie in particular,” she says. “The people there are so kind, and I love that it is such a beautiful place. I do hope, one day, to be able to bring my children to Lockerbie, but that will be several years from now.
“For me, there is something so peaceful about returning to that place. It’s very hard to go there, but wonderful at the same time. It is amazing to me that the people of Lockerbie are willing to share their stories, many of them reliving the trauma of that night, so that the family members can have an understanding.”
This Saturday, on the 25th anniversary, victims’ families will come together on both sides of the Atlantic to remember their lost loved ones.
The Stratis-Tedeschis will travel to Washington DC for an official memorial service at Arlington Cemetery and Tedeschi will set up a live stream to the service in a hotel room so that Stratis and her two sons can be a part of the ceremony without shivering in the winter cold. It will start at 3:03pm, the exact time the events of that night unfolded in the skies over Lockerbie, 25 years ago.
The weight of the Lockerbie tragedy still hangs over the Stratis-Tedeschi family but they work hard to find the positive, the light, in their situation. “I am struck this year, with the addition of our second son, that two men died in order for Chris and myself to know each other and come together,” Stratis says. “And now we are raising two boys.”