I won’t pretend to know Louise James or her partner, Sean McGrotty. I met them once, a few years back, when they backed a campaign to raise funds for the Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice.
My abiding memory is of them both as exceptionally devoted and loving parents. Louise, bubbly and full of chat about her children. Sean, a bit quieter, but passionate about the help provided by the Children’s Hospice.
But I don’t know them - in the way that all those who are grieving so painfully and deeply today do. I won’t be at Louise’s side, trying to comfort her as she comes to terms of with the unthinkable loss of her mother, sister, husband and two beautiful boys.
But that said, like so many people in Derry and the North West, I am grieving with her all the same. I am thinking of those boys - similar in age to my own children. Mark, just growing into a young man. Evan, with his ‘big teeth’ growing in - a sign that he too is growing up. That happy smile, I see reflected when my own daughter smiles at me.
I am thinking what if that was my mother, my sister (the same age as my niece) or my husband.
I am wondering how a woman finds the strength to open her eyes, to breathe, to stand up.
I am grieving with you, Louise. Although I know none of us can ever understand what you are going through and what you will go through in the days, weeks, months and years that follow.
I have cried, as I know many others have. As a journalist we can develop a thicker skin than some - in my 18 years in this job I have covered a lot of tragedies, as have my colleagues.
But there is something about this one which has hit us all hard. Is it because three of those who died were just children? Is it because of the selflessness of the man who swam to try and help, or of Sean who didn’t leave his boys even when all hope was lost? Is it because we’ve all been to Buncrana, have our happy memories there.
We’ve all been part of a family “on a wee run down the road” on a nice evening.
We can all, in some way, place ourselves somewhere in this tragedy and while are grateful it is not our lives that our turned upside down forever, we can’t escape the images of a loving family who lives are forever altered. So for what it’s worth, we’re grieving with you, Louise and we’re here for you.