Belfast Telegraph

Stella O'Malley: After the death of Nora Quoirin, the world can only look on at tragedies such as this in disbelief and horror

Meabh Quoirin helped in the search for her daughter (The Royal Malaysia Police/AP)
Meabh Quoirin helped in the search for her daughter (The Royal Malaysia Police/AP)

By Stella O'Malley

Once in a while a terrible tragedy happens and the rest of the world bears witness. The natural order of things dictates that parents die before children - anything else causes such unbearable grief we can only look on in disbelief and horror.

This is why, when the news came that the body of Nora Quoirin had been found, it was difficult to know how we should feel; a guilty shudder of relief because if there is a body to be found, then it is better that it is found? Or should we feel distressed that finding the body extinguished any hope that Nora would be found alive?

The mental anguish of Madeleine McCann's parents seems ongoing as they have never found out what happened that fateful night in 2007 and, yet, at least they can still retain hope, however unlikely, that one day she might come back into their lives. On the other hand, Michael Jacob, father of 18-year-old Deirdre Jacob - who disappeared near her home in Newbridge, Co Kildare, in 1998 at the age of 18 - recently described how he wondered what had happened to his daughter every time he turned into the driveway of his house, as this was where she was last seen, and the continuous, brutal anguish of this just seems too much for a person to bear.

Many of us worry about our excessive interest in cases such as these. We may worry we are becoming ghoulish and we may wonder whether we are becoming hysterical, as there are many other tragedies unfolding every single day. The truth is that we become interested in following the details of the story out of a primeval instinct to ensure we might be able to learn from these tragedies and survive any similar future random attacks on our lives.

This case, just like many other, will be picked apart and analysed in every manner possible and, yet, it will almost certainly turn out that, based upon the tiniest twist of fate, some people in life are handed incomprehensible pain while the rest of us get away scot-free in comparison. There is often absolutely nothing we can do to counteract this.

We humans prefer to believe that every grain of sand is counted. It is more comforting to believe that some higher power has a perfectly designed plan and that everything is unfolding exactly as it should than to believe all this pain and beauty is just a series of random events. The problem is that nobody seems to have figured out this great plan - and reasons such as karma or God's will are beginning to look increasingly like 'magical thinking', a term used in psychology for people who ascribe causal relationships between random events.

This is why, when faced with the horrors of children dying from war and famine or, closer to home, loving parents losing their first-born daughter while on holiday in Malaysia, many of us feel existential dread as we consider that maybe there is no plan.

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Maybe life is unfolding, for good or for bad and we are all part of a beautiful, sometimes horrifying random process.

But, if we can never know the truth of it, perhaps the only appropriate response is to become more aware of our own contribution to the pain and happiness quotient in this world?

There is little point in trying to imagine how Meabh and Sebastien Quoirin might feel today. Only parents who have gone through this experience can empathise.

Yet perhaps, in a gesture of goodwill towards the Quoirin family and indeed any other family that has been touched by such tragedy, maybe we can be a little kinder to the vulnerable among us? Considering that we cannot bear the weight of this tragedy for the Quoirin family, then perhaps the most appropriate response to stories as sad as this one is to do our bit, however small, to reduce the mental pain of the people we know and love?

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