herald

Thursday 8 December 2016

Gerry O'Carroll on Berkeley tragedy: All of us parents worry about our kids, but this was truly unimaginable

Eimear Walsh
Eimear Walsh
Eoghan Culligan

Two of the five Irish students of the Berkeley balcony tragedy - Olivia Burke and Niccolai Schuster - were laid to rest today.

Their funerals followed that of Eimear Walsh and Eoghan Culligan yesterday. Tomorrow Lorcan Miller will be buried after his funeral mass.

Last Sunday I returned to Dublin Airport after a short break abroad and was there to witness a sad funeral cortège, as the remains of four of the victims were taken from the airport, having arrived earlier from the States.

The sight of gardai saluting the hearses as the bodies went past was a sombre one. Tears were in my eyes as I looked to my wife, both of us remembering the times we took our children to Dublin Airport to embark on their American J1 adventures.

Thousands upon thousands of other Irish parents have similar memories, I'm sure. Memories of helping pack up rucksacks, issuing reminders about passports and tickets and then making early morning trips to the airport.

Then the wait for a phone call or, in more recent times, an email or Facebook update. The world has become a smaller place in recent decades but California, or Boston, or New York, is still a very long way away if you're a parent at home.

Like parents everywhere my wife and I worried about our children, and we hoped and prayed their would return safely. Mercifully, they always did.

Sadly it was all so different for the heartbroken parents of the tragic Berkeley students. Their children's J1 adventure ended in unspeakable tragedy.

It is almost impossible for any parent, or any person, to imagine the grief into which the families and friends of these five students have been plunged.

The entire country has left shocked, numbed and heartbroken by this awful event. Flags have flown at half mast on public buildings, books of condolences have been opened, and the Taoiseach and President have made statements reflecting the national sense of grief.

Reading and watching the news in recent days Shakespeare's words on mortality came to my mind - "We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep".

These five young people, and the sixth victim, American Ashley Donohoe, were like so many others of their age and generation. Travelling the world without a care in the world, enjoying the carefree abandon that only youth can offer.

Then it all ended in a heartbeat. I offer my heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of Eimear, Eoghan, Niccolai, Olivia, Lorcan and Ashley.

I hope that the bereaved families will, in time, find the strength to come to terms with their loss. Of course, no amount of well-meaning sentiments can make sense of such a tragedy.

This catastrophe should make us realise that a loving family and loyal friends are our true treasures on this earth. Nothing else matters. Rest in peace.

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