Paul Caruana Galizia has penned a touching piece of what life was really like growing up as the youngest son of his mother, assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Writing in Tortoise, a British news outlet he now works for, Paul spoke of his mother’s love for her family, justice and gardening and the moment he found out she was murdered in a car bomb in October 2017.
“What people didn’t see was that being one of ‘Daphne’s sons’ was wonderful,” he wrote. “She seemed to have all the time in the world for us – I don’t understand how, but she made it so. She would take us to the beach after school, on archaeological digs when she enrolled at the university, on picnics. She taught us to read widely, think freely and to care. To care for each other, our friends, family, our dogs, our guinea pigs, our hamsters. I often wondered why my friends’ mothers were so different to mine.”
These are some of the best extracts, verbatim, from Paul’s tribute to his mother.
One of his earliest memories
My mother, who had strong views on the church, didn’t want to send me to school for Holy Communion day, but she didn’t want me to feel left out either. I’d have gladly spent the day at home on the PlayStation with my brothers, but that wasn’t on offer. I was sent to school, in a compromise move, in a T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops.
Everyone else in my whole year was dressed in traditional lacy white dresses and suits.
“Why did your mother send you in flip-flops?” a classmate asked.
“I don’t know. Why did yours put you in a white tuxedo?”
This is what makes me think that my mother was always meant to be a journalist.
A priest telling her about his loneliness and how his father had left home when he was young; the bank inspector telling her how they had been asked to cover up money-laundering; the government workers revealing corruption to her.
She never betrayed a confidence even when her life was under threat. She didn’t keep notes and deleted sensitive emails and messages, something those investigating her murder wouldn’t believe until they went through our house a day after she was killed.
It was this, and a capacity for outrage at injustice that she never lost, that made my mother Malta’s moral conscience.
On his parents’ first encounter
Peter Caruana Galizia stands at the site where his wife was murdered. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty, for the Daphne Project
My parents met at a bar in St Julian’s, close to their home town of Sliema. My mother was standing by the bar, bored, and yawned. My father saw his chance and sidled up to her.
“I know – what a bloody creep,” she told me.
“She was always a bit different, your mother, you know,” is how he remembered it.
We were happy and close growing up. My mother once described my brothers and me, during one of our fights over who took whose jeans or whatever, as an qaqoċċa, an artichoke, which in Malta are smaller and their leaves more tightly wound around the heart. And my parents, under incredible strain to protect us and themselves, were too. They talked a lot, about everything.
The three boys would sit there, trying to catch up, and, as we grew older, joining in. In the evenings my father would make my mother a gin and tonic, and pour wine for himself. They loved gardening – my mother cacti, my father trees – and knew the history of every plant they touched.
I once caught [my father] looking at my mother in the witness stand, in one of the 70 or so libel suits filed against her (34 of which have passed on to my family, as her heirs), smiling and in awe of the woman whose heart he had won, as she outwitted the cabinet minister who sued her and his team of lawyers, one after the other. When we left, my father turned to me and asked: “Did you see your mother?”
When neo-Nazis set their house on fire
Daphne Caruana Galizia during a rare interview on TVM in the early 1990s
I was doing my A levels. I was out with friends and came home at 2.30am to see a large fire at the back of the house. Strange time for a bonfire, I thought. But the smoke looked heavy and black and I could hear window panes cracking in the heat as I came closer. The house was on fire and my parents and eldest brother were asleep inside.
I ran in and woke them and as we put out the fire we saw that it hadn’t yet burnt through another stack of car tyres and plastic bottles filled with petrol and placed against the living-room doors that opened on to the garden.
My mother had been reporting on a neo-Nazi group who, with the not insignificant support of Malta’s electorate, wanted to shoot and kill African refugees seeking asylum out at sea before they landed in Malta. At my Jesuit college sixth form the following Monday, people told me that it was irresponsible of my mother to have let me stay out so late.
And I remember thinking: there’s a problem in this country, and it isn’t my mother.
On the harassment his mother suffered
Paul (right) and Andrew Caruana Galizia with their late mother
“The politicians, their cronies and thugs on whom she reported, made her the centre of relentless hate campaigns. The current prime minister’s main communications aide, Glenn Bedingfield, also an MP, set up a blog with the sole purpose of harassing her, asking readers to send in photos of her going about her day, photos of my brothers and me, and our father.”
“The harassment got so bad over the last few years of her life that she felt unable to leave the house, and began using a rental car – the one now seared into everyone’s minds as a bombed-out chassis in an arid field – rather than her own car.”
On his mother’s anger at injustice
“Her anger at injustice drove her writing: violence against asylum seekers and children, cabinet ministers skipping traffic queues, the destruction of Malta’s limited countryside, the abuse of public office for private gain, and misogyny. She was called a “witch”, a “whore” and “menopausal” in the course of her 30-year writing career.”
On the moment he found out his mother had been killed
I was in London. Andrew and my father were at work in Valletta. Matthew was at home with my mother before she left the house. The explosion was powerful enough to shake the windows and doors of the house. “I knew it was a car bomb straight away,” Matthew, who had run out of the house barefoot, told journalists. “There was a huge ball of fire,” he said. “Like the fire of hell. It was just… awful, the sound of the horn blaring. There were body parts all over the ground.
Matthew and I don’t speak about that afternoon. He’s been over it enough, with journalists, lawyers, police officers, and in his head. And in any case, I can’t bear it. It’s one of two scenes – the other a press photo of Andrew and my father arriving at the scene of the explosion – that shut my mind down and freeze my heart.”
But I remember when Matthew called me, repeatedly, from a number that I didn’t recognise. I sent the number to my mother, asking whether she recognised it. No reply. My maternal aunt, Cora, the eldest of her three sisters, then called asking that I call Matthew right away.
“There was a bomb in her car,” he told me. I felt an eternity between every word afterwards. “I don’t think she made it. Paul, come home.”
Of course he knew that she didn’t make it. Body parts all over the ground. And in my heart so did I. But it allowed me to pretend just long enough so that I could – with my wife, Jessica, practically carrying me – make it back home.
On what comes next
An action at the Bidnija field where Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed
In his homily, the Archbishop of Malta told journalists “never to grow weary in your mission to be the eyes, the ears and the mouth of the people”. He then turned to my brothers and me, and said:
“As you know, whenever your mother was abroad, she had a habit of lighting a candle in church for each one of you: the silent prayer of a mother for her children… Your beloved mother died a cruel death by the hidden hand of someone that valued darkness over the light, for his actions are evil. See that you will always be the children of the light.”
We lit three candles and Matthew read Ecclesiastes 3, which my mother once wrote was “engraved in my heart”. Wickedness in the place of justice. There is a time for everything, a season for every activity under the heavens. A time to be born and a time to die, to kill and to heal, to mourn and to dance. I don’t know when that time will come. And I don’t know that we’ll always be children of the light in what, at times, feels like complete darkness.
I left Malta a few hours after my mother’s funeral and haven’t returned since. It is safer and easier, for me, to fight our battles against the governing Labour Party and Maltese state, who continue to block a public inquiry into our mother’s death despite a legal obligation to call one, from London.
In the end, what was it all for? Everything. Her journalism was our guiding light on everything. She shaped us and our country into something better. And now that Malta has killed its Cassandra, our Daphne, it is having to face up to what she’s been trying to tell us all along.
Cover photo: Right: Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters