Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Can John ever move on from shattering loss?

The not guilty verdicts came as a hammer blow to John McAreavey. Now he faces rebuilding his life without his beloved Michaela, says Martina Devlin

Life was never going to be the same again for John McAreavey after his bride was murdered on their honeymoon. Yesterday it even took a turn for the worse.

For him, everything changed in January 2011, when he found Michaela's dead body, her lips blue, in a bath. Nothing could bring her back.

But, along with the Harte family, he must have felt a responsibility to see justice done in her name.

And so the long journey began. He must have hoped an end was in sight when he returned to Mauritius for the trial. Yesterday told a different tale.

Sitting in the St Louis supreme court, listening as the two hotel workers charged with murdering his wife were acquitted, must surely have been a frustrating experience for John.

And, yet, how could justice be done in Michaela's name at that trial?

There is no doubt she was killed. It cannot and should not rest there. But no DNA evidence linked the accused men to her and the police investigation seems to have been handled with all the verve of a Keystone Cops' raid.

Under the circumstances, perhaps the McAreaveys and Hartes were braced for that verdict. Even so, the words they used in their statement - desolation, devastation, harrowing - signal how scalded they feel.

If the search for justice for Michaela gave John some focus during these past 18 months, then the failure to find her killers and pass sentence on them must add to his burden.

This young man has already experienced a litany of black days, from the day of the murder, to finding himself in handcuffs, to the pain of her funeral.

Yesterday must take its place among these shadowed times. Imagine walking away from that courtroom to the sound of cheering, as he did.

However horrific it must feel to have a spouse murdered, it has to be overwhelming to face questions, before judge and jury, with unpleasant inferences about being involved in her death.

Out there on that pocket of land on the Indian Ocean, watching the wheels of justice in motion, proved to be a trial - in more ways than one.

It was a tribulation her widower had to endure, for Michaela's sake. Giving evidence, he struggled to keep his tears in check.

Presumably, the Hartes and McAreaveys will now pursue other avenues.

They may look into a civil case, for example. Or perhaps Mauritius itself will announce an investigation, in the interests of protecting its tourism trade.

As for John, whether closely or loosely involved in these measures, he must still invent a new life for himself. But when it comes to that new life, his history will haunt him.

Unusually for a young man who isn't a soccer, pop or reality TV star, John McAreavey's face has the instant recognition factor. It is a status thrust on him without any of the customary benefits - but all the disadvantages.

In time, the invasive indignity of the court case will smart less and perhaps the galling sense of injustice may not rankle so bitterly. But his loss will not fade.

I imagine he lies awake at night and wonders. What if they'd chosen Miami instead of Mauritius for their honeymoon?

What if they'd taken an excursion that day, instead of staying in the hotel?

The 'what ifs' are the most insidious of all grief's uninvited guests. They are hard to shake off.

But supposing he decides one day that he's ready to engage with life again, instead of marking time.

That won't be a simple matter. His features are now so familiar, along with his name, that his story is intertwined with hers.

Maybe he accepts it because he adored her and couldn't believe his luck when she became his girlfriend and subsequently his wife. Their wedding photos show him to be a man deeply in love. But his lack of anonymity has to add to his troubles.

We know so much about their life together, but one detail in particular lodges in the memory.

They bought a house together and chose not to live in it, wanting to wait until after they were married to make it special.

It was in Lawrencetown, Banbridge, just two miles away from where his parents lived. The sort of home where a young couple might hope to raise a family, close to potential babysitters.

He never did move in, he couldn't bear to do it without her. It felt wrong. The property in Co Down where they intended to build a future is a symbol of everything John has lost. Not just a wife, but a life unlived together.

I expect well-meaning people have told him Michaela wouldn't want him to mourn forever, that the best way to honour her memory is to embrace life.

And I imagine he nods, maybe forces a smile, and meanwhile continues to feel withered inside.

We had a glimmer into how John feels during his evidence in court.

He described how a local police officer inquired his age, and commented that, at 26, he was young and would find another wife.

In recounting the incident and his scandalised reaction, it's clear he believes he'll never find another Michaela.

To him, to her family, she is irreplaceable. As indeed she is.

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