Deaths of Connor, Lauren and Morgan form nightmarish fear that every parent learns to dread
Children dying before their mother and father is contrary to the laws of the natural world, writes Paul Hopkins
The pregnant mother of one of the teenagers who lost their lives in a "crush" outside a disco on St Patrick's Day still "doesn't believe that he's gone". His father says the family are "devastated and broken". Morgan Barnard (17), Lauren Bullock (17) and Connor Currie (16) died in the unexpected events at the Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown, Co Tyrone, that Sunday night.
Morgan's father, James, says he and Morgan's mother, who is 18 weeks pregnant, are "struggling to come to terms" with his death. "I'm not sure how we'll get through, hour by hour, day by day. Maria, me, the family, we're devastated, broken. She has chosen not to believe it at the moment."
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There's a natural order to things: we are born, we grow, we get old and we die. At least, that's the way it is supposed to be. Often, though, fate, and unexpectedly with cruelty, intervenes. When that happens, we call it a tragedy, from the Greek 'tragoidia', referring to a drama based on human suffering.
Most of us have, or will, over the course of a lifetime, lose loved ones. In general, the old go first - a parent, an aged aunt, a favourite uncle. And, generally, in the scheme of things, they depart from us one at a time.
When fate steps in and changes the order of things, through illness, a wanton act, or a freak - inexplicable almost - incident like at Cookstown and snatches loved ones from under our watch, tragedy takes on a colossal heartbreaking guise.
Expressions like "devastated", "broken", "can't believe it" are natural and understandable reactions. Inevitable, even.
When such tragedy occurs, the loss is devastating to loved ones left behind but, sometimes, too, a collective numbness can set in and desensitise the rest of us to the pain of those left to pick up the pieces.
It is, perhaps, a coping mechanism of sorts. Having said that, there can be few on this island who have not felt for what was visited upon the parents, families and friends of the three young people from Co Tyrone.
It's every parent's unuttered nightmare - the thought that your child might die before you. They're young, they're healthy, with their whole life seemingly before them and, then, in an instant - that moment in Cookstown on St Patrick's night - death snatches them from you.
My father once told me that worry was not an emotion that a parent could control. That whether your kids were five or 50, you worried about them from the day they were born until, well, hopefully and statistically, the day you died and they moved centre-stage.
Will they get over the chickenpox? Where are they at 3am? Or, later still, you hope that job/mortgage/spouse-to-be works out for them. That and a million other silly things. It's called being a parent.
A million other silly thoughts no longer in the future for the parents of the Tyrone teenagers.
For the young, the world is their oyster: first loves, school pals, dances on St Patrick's night and maybe that drink or two. And, because the world these days seems a smaller place, parents are lulled into a false sense of security about their children's safety. They are, after all, just a mobile phone call away.
And so they go, to that dance, or whatever, but parents still worry. And the wretched sadness and sense of despair, the future that is denied those families in Tyrone only, again, reinforces in every parent that innate worry.
As family, we breakfast of a morning and go our separate ways, to school, or work, and instinctively expect to gather round the home hearth come close of day. It should have been so for the families of Morgan, Lauren and Connor, and not end in tragedy.
If our young are intent on going to that party, or teenage dance, or whatever good and decent thing they wish to collectively do, then go they must. But it only takes a step onto an unfamiliar roadway, or a crush from a heaving queue of energetic young people, to make it all go horribly wrong.
Something the parents of those three young people learnt last week. And something they are going to have to learn to live with for the rest of their days - facing their grief relatively alone, into a future that now seems so much more uncertain and unsafe. Cruel, even.
Paul Hopkins is a writer and commentator