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Suzanne Breen: A stark reminder to hold our kids close and give thanks for them

Nora Quoirin pictured in spring months before her death in Malaysia
Nora Quoirin pictured in spring months before her death in Malaysia
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Radiant in her red jacket on a crisp spring day with tulips exploding into bloom. Everything in this photograph shouts life, yet just months later Nora Quoirin's parents are preparing to bury her.

They can't yet comprehend the enormity of what's happened. They still speak of her in the present tense. "Nora is at the heart of our family.

"She is the truest, most precious girl and we love her infinitely," they said after her body was found.

They will want now, first and foremost, to bring their beloved daughter home, to the place where she was safe and secure. To be with those who loved and will miss her most.

When they boarded the flight to Kuala Lumpur just a fortnight ago, the Quoirins will never have thought they would be making a return journey like this. Never have imagined that Nora wouldn't be sitting in a passenger seat beside them on the plane home.

We love each and every one of our children with every fibre of our being. But the bond that develops between a special-needs child and their mother and father is extra close.

The child's vulnerability means parental powers of protection are acutely developed. You're on the look-out for them 24/7, seeing dangers that could lie around every corner because you know they're not as robust as others.

We've all experienced the awful instant panic when a child is lost in the supermarket, or momentarily disappears in the park. So, take that and multiply it a million times, and then a million times more, when it's a special-needs child out there on her own in the jungle. Knowing that Nora survived for six or seven days will torture her parents. That she spent a week hungry, thirsty and scared will be unbearable.

They will have a litany of questions, too. Nora was found only 1.6 miles from the resort. If search crews had already been there, why had she not been discovered earlier, when she could have been saved?

The Quoirins will surely want their own post-mortem when they return to London. The Malaysian autopsy found no foul play, and that may well be right.

Yet Meabh has persistently said that her daughter would never wander off alone. That view must be respected. Nobody knows Nora better than her mum.

I watched Meabh as she addressed the media before all hope of a positive ending was snuffed out. Her voice shook with emotion but I wondered how she even managed to stand, let alone speak.

Now, she will just want to have Nora in her arms, to stroke her hair, to hold her hand.

The Quoirins are clearly a close-knit family. There will be a strong support network for Meabh and Sebastien, and they will need it. Their grief will be so overwhelming, they will feel like they are drowning. And while the rest of us, friends and strangers alike, offer empathetic words, nobody will truly understand except other parents who have lost a child.

There is no getting over this, and there is no point pretending otherwise. Courage for me is a bereaved parent rising out of bed in the morning to face another day. And the Quorins will do that, time and time again, out of love for their two surviving children.

Nora's story has captured and broken our hearts. As we fret over exam results and all the rest, it's a reminder not to sweat the small stuff. To hold our kids close and give thanks that they're here.

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