On 5 August 2016, 14 young people lost their lives in the fire in the bar “Le Cuba Libre” in Rouen. Six years later, families are rebuilding. Emile lost his brother, 21-year-old Romain. Johnny lost his only daughter, 20-year-old Megane. They testify.
Six years ago, 14 young people lost their lives in the terrible Cuba Libre fire. On August 5, 2016, the candle from a birthday cake had ignited the basement of the Rouen bar transformed into a mini dance hall. The materials used to ensure the site’s sound insulation were of poor quality and highly flammable. This development was not declared and had not been subject to a security check.
Six years later, the families don’t forget it. How to rebuild after the loss of a child, a brother? How can we learn to live without them?
Every Saturday, Emilie’s mother puts flowers on Romain’s grave. “It’s a habit she’s picked up. For Christmas, he’s entitled to a small tree and a wreath of flowers in the shape of a heart for his birthday.” says Emilie, who lost her brother on the evening of 5 August 2016. It was she who had to warn her parents, on holiday in Brittany, and tell them the terrible news. Six years later, she agrees to testify positively in memory of Romain.
“He’s still there, I’m not much of a cemetery, but I see him in all my dreams. At home there are a lot of pictures of him and we continue to talk about him, a lot and in the present.”. Emilie was very close to her brother, a “twin love”she describes, which was even more reinforced when their father died in 2008.
The young woman has just given birth to a little girl. She intends to make sure her brother is a part of her life. “I put a picture of Romain in my daughter’s room, I will explain to her later that she has an uncle, but that he left young.” Before she started a family, Emilie was followed psychologically. “It helped me to suffer less. It was complicated to accept that my little brother went before me. Today it is more of a positive grief: I accepted that he is no longer there, but I want those around me to know him through memories.”
A week before his death, Romain, 21, had to leave the family concon. He had just bought an apartment and was going to move into it after work. “In the evening in Cuba Libre, he showed me around before going to the party. Today I kept his apartment, which I rented out, I feel like I’m continuing his project.”
Six years later, Emile will send a positive message about grief:
Even if these are words you don’t want to hear at the moment, time really does things to ease the pain. The person has not yet disappeared. She is no longer there physically, but there are still the pictures, the memories… We can learn to rebuild ourselves little by little, without forgetting the person.
“You learn to live differently. It’s also a tribute to continuing to stay strong and continue living your life to the fullest.”
If Emilie and her mother have accepted Romain’s grief and live today with a smile, this is not the case for everyone. To Johnny, Mégane’s father, “it’s only survival”. On the evening of August 5, 2016, he lost his only daughter. She was 20 years old. “Six years is long and short at the same time. For me it’s like yesterday. I still have the images in my head when I was called. Everything is jumping.”
Johnny couldn’t find the strength to go back to work. He divorced his wife after the tragedy. He now lives alone, undergoing treatment, with psychological support. “There are days when it goes very badly, days a little better, but it never goes very well…”he tells us. “There is something every day that reminds me of my daughter. A song, a movie…”
I am still rebuilding with the help of a shrink. I am learning to live without my child.
“What helps me the most is meeting the other parents who have lost their children. Together we live in the memories, we realize that we feel the same. It helps. Our fight, it is for this tragedy must not be forgotten, so that such a tragedy does not happen again and that our children are not left behind for nothing. Our children live through us.”
Johnny learns today, with the help of his psychiatrist, that “deal with your hatred of those responsible”. “What they did is intolerable, and since there is no justice, it increases my hatred.”
In fact, the leaders of Cuba Libre were released from prison a few months after their conviction. They were sentenced to 5 years in prison, of which 3 years in October 2019. They will have only spent a few months in custody. “21 is far too young to leave. The way it was done seems even more unfair. The fact that the owners left a year and a half after his trial always brings up that side of injustice”. says Emilie.
I wouldn’t want them to spend their life in prison, it wouldn’t have brought anyone back, but 3 years wasn’t bad enough to teach them a lesson and think about the consequences of their actions.
Six years later, Cuba Libre no longer exists. It has been replaced by an electronic cigarette shop. Only one monument remains in memory of the 14 victims on the pavement opposite.
Families will gather there on Friday, August 5 at midnight.