Berkeley balcony collapse horror affects all of us
How many parents must have felt their hearts almost stopping when they heard of the tragic deaths of six young Irish students, killed when a balcony collapsed in Berkeley, California? Like Ann Travers, many would have spent hours yesterday trying to contact their children thousands of miles away.
For Ann, whose life has been touched by more than enough tragedy, there was the relief that her son, who was at the same party, was safe and well. Sadly for the relatives of the six who died and the seven other young people critically injured, there was to be no good news at the end of the phone, only confirmation of their worst fears, plunging them into despair and shock.
Only a short time ago they had waved goodbye to their children who had set off for the dream destination of the west coast of America filled with anticipation of having the summer of their lives. The young people's dreams were shattered in an instant. One minute they were enjoying a typical 21st birthday party, the next their lives were extinguished.
There will be thousands of parents the length and breadth of Ireland today who will think that there but for the grace of God or fate could go their children. For at this time of the year many teenagers will be planning their first holiday away without their parents, or drawing up an itinerary for a gap year, or taking part in an exchange programme.
Their parents will be encouraging, knowing that everyone has to take those first independent steps on the way to adulthood, but also a little fearful. Modern technology may have shrunk the world, enabling families to keep in touch no matter how distant apart, but that will not entirely still be the concern that flutters in every parent's heart as their son or daughter sets out on their big adventure.
Of course, young people face as many potential dangers at home as they do abroad, but that doesn't stop parents believing they can keep their children safe as long as they are near. That, perhaps, may be the thought that those parents bereaved by the Berkeley tragedy will harbour in the coming days. What if their children had not gone away? They will need a lot of support in the coming days, weeks and months as they come to terms with their loss and as they await the verdict on how a balcony in a relatively new building could so disastrously collapse.