By Aida Mokhtar
There is nothing more shocking for any parent to experience than the disappearance of one’s special needs daughter at a time when it what was meant to be a fantastic holiday.
Fifteen-year-old Nora Anne Quoirin’s sudden disappearance from an eco-resort in Malaysia on 4 August recently, a day after her arrival from the United Kingdom, was deeply felt by IIUM Special Parents.
IIUM Special Parents are employees of the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) with special needs children. They are part of the IIUM Special Parents Group which was formed in October last year.
As the coordinator of the support group, I can safely say that we felt as if it were our own special needs teenager who went missing. We wondered where she could have gone to, prayed for her safety and reacted to her disappearance as though she were our very own.
The same sense of distraught and pain was felt alongside Nora’s parents, Meabh and Sebastien Quoirin. There was a great sense of empathy since the news broke out in the media.
IIUM Special Parents have special children too. We worry about them, about their future. We worry about their safety. The worry does not go away in our lifetime. We put on a brave face as we face society. We sometimes get questioning looks from others for the physical appearance or forms of behaviours that our special children exhibit. We swallow the stares and we try to remain positive and strong.
I am grateful for the humbling influence of my special son. Our children have made us reflect on the meaning of success that needs redefining in the context of our special children who face all sorts of challenges. Every small bit of progress is evidence of success.
Our children are not different, they are special. We believe in the common expression that special children are given to special parents.
Every day, I would be searching for updates on news of Nora hoping that she would be found safe. That she was far from harm.
The situation was upsetting for Nora’s family. This was not a typical teenager on an adventure but a special needs teenager who had challenges brought about by her condition called holoprosencephaly – a brain malformation that gave her limited verbal communicative ability and a learning disability.
The fear for her survival in the dense jungle for many days surely must have been a nightmare for her parents whom I’d imagine were neither eating nor sleeping well since her disappearance. What was supposed to be an exuberant episode in their life quickly turned into one that was filled with gloom.
Life is like that sometimes. It could suddenly turn upside down in an instance. We reassure ourselves in believing that we will not be given challenges that we cannot bear.
Holidays are supposed to connote fun and excitement. Holidays are not supposed to end abruptly and tragically. This holiday opposed its normative form and turned into anxiety amidst a valiant search and rescue effort of over 300 people for ten days that ended in the utmost tragedy one could ever imagine with the discovery of a body resembling Nora.
Nora is no longer with us. She was found 2.5 km away from her resort. I was imagining how she could have got there. What was she thinking? The waterfall must have been a great magnet for her. Nora was found so deep in the jungle that the search and rescue team needed a helicopter to transport her out of it.
The post-mortem examination reported that she passed away due to internal bleeding probably caused by starvation and stress.
IIUM Special Parents were relieved that she was not harmed. But questions of whether she had passed away in pain filled my mind and that possibility was upsetting.
With the discovery of Nora’s body described by a rescuer as she looked as though she were sleeping, marked the eventual closure to the search, albeit a very sad closure. Rest in peace Nora Anne Quoirin. ***