Once in a while a terrible tragedy happens in the public eye and the rest of the world become accidental witnesses to this horror.
The natural order of things dictates that parents die before their children – and anything else causes such unbearable grief that the rest of us 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.
Should we 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 the find 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.
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, the father of 18-year-old Deirdre Jacob, recently described how he wondered what had happened to his daughter every single time he turned into the driveway of his house, as this was where she was last seen more than 20 years ago.
The unending and 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.
We may wonder whether we are becoming hysterical as there are many other tragedies every single day.
The truth is we become interested in following the details out of a primeval instinct to ensure we might be able to learn from these tragedies and survive any similar random attacks on our lives.
This case 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 nothing we can do to counteract this.
We humans prefer to believe every grain of sand is counted.
It is more comforting to believe 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 are just a series of random events. The problem is that nobody seems to have figured out this great plan.
Reasons such as karma or God’s will are beginning to look increasingly like ‘magical thinking’, a term used in psychology for people who find 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.
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 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 any other family 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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