Sunday 18 August 2019

Catherine O'Mahony: 'Nothing can console Nóra's devastated parents - but at least they can bring their beloved girl home'

Ordeal: Nora Quoirin (15) with her Belfast-native mother Meabh. Photo: Family Handout/PA Wire
Ordeal: Nora Quoirin (15) with her Belfast-native mother Meabh. Photo: Family Handout/PA Wire
Catherine O'Mahony

Catherine O'Mahony

Anyone who attempted to put themselves in the shoes of Meabh and Sebastien Quoirin this week did so at their peril.

Who would wish on themselves the cold dread that must have enveloped the Quoirins as they travelled unfamiliar Malaysian roads to an unknown hospital to identify the body of their 15-year-old daughter Nóra?

The devastating finality of that mission; the horror that preceded it as their timid, funny daughter remained missing for 10 long days, leaving her family to make tearful appeals before the world's cameras for her recovery.

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And then, worst of all, to be told that this exceptionally vulnerable child - "vulnerable since the day she was born" as her mother Meabh put it - may have been alone and hungry for days in an unforgiving jungle, so close and yet completely out of reach of the loving protection her family had managed to give her for 15 years.

Anyone who has loved a child had been praying for a miracle for this Irish-French family. But there was no miracle.

The family issued a statement to express the "unbearable cruelty" of the manner in which she had been robbed from them. That they were broken-hearted didn't need to be said.

Nora’s parents Meabh and Sebastien
Nora’s parents Meabh and Sebastien

Read more here: Nora was alive for six days before she died of starvation in the jungle

One can only hope for their sake that the Quoirins will feel at least one aspect of their suffering has ended, and that's the torturous wondering about where Nóra was and whether they would ever see her again. Family was everything to Nóra, they had said in one of their devastatingly relatable descriptions of a teenager with special needs, who completely lacked the drive for independence of a more typical 15-year-old.

It would have been appalling to imagine her lost to them forever. She is - at least in one sense - with them now.

Of all the horrors that face a family when a beloved child goes missing, is it possible that the sheer not knowing is the worst? Or is ignorance a comforting excuse to cling to hope?

Most of us are in the lucky position of never having to consider this question. The Missing Children Europe organisation says a child is reported missing in Europe every two minutes - that's 250,000 a year. But the vast majority are found within days or weeks.

Read more here: Nóra's family are treating cause of death with 'caution', lawyer warns

Most are runaways (57pc), others are abducted by family members (23pc), 1pc are reported as possible criminal abductions. But in cases where a child's fate is simply never known, all that we know suggests the long-term impact on their families is devastating.

The affected ones we all know are the McCanns, whose tiny daughter Madeleine vanished in 2007, and for whom her family continues to search. This week they offered prayers of support to the Quoirins and praised their efforts to draw global attention to their plight.

Nora Quoirin
Nora Quoirin

Still a regular and divisive presence on TV, in podcasts and other media, the McCanns repeat regularly that since they have not found a body, they feel that there is hope that their daughter may yet be found.

They say it is for this reason that they try so hard to keep her story alive. Media outlets go with this. Every few months, fresh headlines appear about a breakthrough in the Madeleine McCann case. And yet no real news comes.

It is hard not to wonder if the McCanns' hope gives them solace or more ties them in perpetuity to an endless, heartbreaking search? It probably does both. Either way, it's easy to understand why they would opt to hope. What option do they have?

The family of Dublin teenager Amy Fitzpatrick, who was 15 when she vanished in Spain on New Year's Day 2008, remain no wiser as to what happened.

Read more here: Timeline: How 'unbearable cruelty' was visited upon the Quoirin family

The family of Ben Needham appear permanently haunted by his mystifying disappearance, aged just three, in 1991 from a garden on the island of Kos.

Ben's mother Kerry said of the Quoirins last week: "I wouldn't wish the life we've had on our worst enemy. It's a horrible life to have to live, and still live now."

Less well known, but left with no less sad a scenario, is the family of Andrew Gosden, a bright and quiet 14-year-old who left his home in Yorkshire one day in 2007 (the same year as Madeleine McCann vanished), took a train to London where he was picked up by CCTV and has never been seen or heard from since.

The team behind the very active Missing Andrew Gosden Twitter account last week also expressed condolences to the Quoirin family.

This is clearly a family that keeps tabs on all missing children, having failed to locate their own.

Andrew's father Kevin has said he would prefer to have found a body than deal with the agony of having no closure about what's happened to Andrew.

He himself attempted suicide due to the stress.

The family have left Andrew's room unchanged; they don't want to change the locks on the doors because he had a key when he left. They have followed false leads and dead ends.

"You go round and round and round in circles with it, because you can't let go of that," Kevin said in a recent Channel 5 documentary.

"You don't know that they're dead so you can't let go and can't go through a grief process. You're just in a limbo the whole time."

Nobody could suppose the Quoirins are experiencing anything other than torment as they await more test results before they settle their affairs in Malaysia and set about bringing their daughter's body home.

They have had the most harrowing time imaginable.

But they will be spared the Gosden family's terrible limbo.

Perhaps in time it will be of some comfort.

The rest of us can only express our heartfelt condolences and hope that this family will, at some time in the future, be able to contemplate recovery.

Rest in peace, Nóra Quoirin.

Irish Independent

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