Bruised grey skies skulked over a chilly scene in a Belfast street. The optics spoke volumes, didn’t they? Nora’s family gathered on the other side of a secure perimeter, while a phalanx of reporters aimed their lenses at a corridor, trying to catch a glimpse through rows of pillars, of a retinue arriving in a pair of jet black Mercedes limousines.
If Sebastien, Innes and Maurice attended Nora’s funeral – and they did – the long lenses failed to find them. In video footage of the funeral there does seem to be a small brown-haired boy wandering between a tangle of legs. A small girl-child with a flower in her hair is carried into the church by an adult, but she appears too young to be Innes.
Only a single image was snapped of the late teenager’s mother. Meabh appeared to be holding something; a box of Nora’s ashes perhaps. Meabh appeared very different now to the worry-worn woman we last saw in Malaysia.
Once again, telephoto lenses had to navigate between brick pillars, a far cry from the jungle of soaring trunks in Malaysia, to catch a glimpse of the furtive family.
Bizarrely, though the media was overtly excluded from the ceremony, a selection of audio from the funeral, the funeral notice and a poem were nevertheless shared with the media. These selections sketched a tale of a rather different Nora to the one we outsiders have gotten to know thus far.
We don’t know whether any of Nora’s family members spoke on her behalf at the funeral. We don’t know who in the family stepped forward as spokesperson for Nora’s life, inside the church. Based on available media reports no one did. Those who spoke were Reverend Ruth Patterson and Father Edward O’ Donnell. No prayers were offered in lieu of the abductor [who is still out there, and on the run] that had brought such “unspeakable pain” to the family. If Nora was being remembered on this sad day, the abductor got a free pass, including in the media.
From a true crime perspective, the most valuable insight provided by the funeral was a more detailed sketch of Nora’s identity, personality and to some extent, a reframing of her capabilities.
Indirectly, another glimpse was provided into the Quoirin family dynamics.
THE TWO NORAS
Reverend Rev Ruth Patterson, a family friend and Presbyterian minister, said the young girl had been known as “Noisy Nora” by friends in Wandsworth, London. She said: “Nora loved school and her teachers. She especially loved food tech lessons where she made new dishes each week before phoning her granda to make him jealous about what she had cooked.”
The clergywoman said Nora had a fantastic memory and “wicked sense of humour” and “loved beasts and monsters like the Gruffalo and her pet tropical fish were called things like Butter and Toast, Ketchup, Hot Chocolate and Fishfingers.
“Nora loved playing with her Kindle. On one occasion her dad said ‘You’re spending too much time on your Kindle’ to which Nora replied: “Don’t worry Daddy, I‘m reading the Washington Post.”
Source: The Sun
In this description, Nora is fully formed, and fully functional.
On August 9th, when the family released a statement, Nora was described very differently:
“She is not like other teenagers. She is not independent and does not go anywhere alone. Nora was born with holoprosencephaly – this means that she has a smaller brain. All her life she has spent a lot of time in hospital. Her verbal communication is limited. She is unable to do maths and so things like money are impossible to manage. She cannot make or receive phone calls independently. She can wash and dress herself, though she cannot manage buttons, and struggles to wash her hair.”
Source: The Mirror
The mismatches are obvious.
- Nora can operate a Kindle and read articles from the Washington Post independently, but she can’t make a phone call.
- Nora can cook meals, but can’t wash her hair or do up buttons.
- Nora’s well-known to be noisy, which suggests she’s very communicative, even annoyingly so, versus “her verbal communication is limited”.
- Nora habitually called her grandfather after cooking classes but “she cannot make or receive calls independently”.
In sum, the funeral describes the deceased Nora as an independent, entrepreneurial and creative spirit, while the “statement” made while she was understood to be alive described Nora as helpless, hopelessly vulnerable and dependent, and severely limited in the most simple of ways.
It’s unlikely Nora’s condition was even mentioned at the funeral, whereas in the context of a police search the size of her brain was explicitly noted.
Back to the eulogy.
Her “crazy memory,” Rev Ruth Patterson added, meant the young girl could remember facts learned years before, such as how many steps were on the Eiffel Tower and what she had to eat “on her seventh birthday.”
Source: The Sun
Given the fact that Nora died of starvation, the mention of food here, what she ate and what she cooked in her “other life”, is saddening. But once again, the funeral sketches a Nora with strong cognitive faculties. If Nora had a good memory, then if she had wandered off, her memory would have served her well. What had she communicated to her family when she last saw them? That she was excited to see the waterfall. She may have reasoned that, although lost, maybe that’s where they’d be looking for her, and so that’s where she would make herself found. All she had to do was find a stream and follow it under it became a waterfall.
“She has been to Asia, and many European countries before, and has never wandered off or got lost. Nora is very sensitive. Outside the family, Nora is very shy and can be quite anxious.”
Source: The Mirror
The funeral provides an expansive sketch. The Eiffel Tower is an iconic landmark. How many people think of its dimensions in terms of physical steps to the top of the tower? Nora’s ability to remember meal feels superior to the average recall of ordinary people. Yet again, in the statement, Nora is described in a self-limiting manner – withdrawn, shy and anxious. Afraid of the world.
Whether there is some, little or much truth in these statements, it feels odd that her own family would feel so comfortable taking their daughter into these apparently unfathomable environments. Either Nora was extremely vulnerable and limited, or she wasn’t. The fact that she had been to many Asian and European countries by the age of fifteen clearly implies her parents didn’t regard her as limited as some statements suggested she was.
The image of a child unable to do her own buttons jibes with the idea of her not having the capacity to wander off. But this Other Nora, the one with a wicked sense of humour and a fascination for monsters and beasts, might be perfectly happy in the jungle, with all its bugs and creepy crawlies. After all, her favourite story, The Gruffalo, is set in a forest.
The Gruffalo is a story about a mouse with a wicked sense of humour, who takes the initiative to wander the jungle while giving various predators – a fox, an owl – the slip.
During his adventure, the mouse not only outsmarts critters he encounters, but he ultimately comes face to face with the fictitious beast from its own mind, and outsmarts it too. The whole story is about avoiding being a meal and ends with the mouse enjoying a meal, and peace of mind that felt good. This is a perfect psychological match for the world Nora entered on her first day in Malaysia. Would she have felt lost or afraid when she first wandered into it?
If this is one area of the psychological narrative that corresponds perfectly to the Nora in the jungles of Malaysia [she’s the mouse], there’s one other perfect match. The funeral on September 10th shares the consensus that what Nora loved most was cuddles with mummy.
Rev Patterson said what Nora loved most had been “cuddles with mummy.” Parish priest Fr Edward O’Donnell, who officiated alongside Nora’s great uncle Fr Pat Kelly, said the cheery young girl with the profound learning difficulty had been “very special.”
He added: “She brought so much joy to Meabh and Sebastien, to her sister, Innes, and to Maurice her brother, and to those of the wider family circle. She, as we all know, depended greatly on others but, Nora in turn gifted others with immeasurable love and joy; before such an ability we can only feel gratitude.”
Source: The Sun
When the statement was released during her disappearance, the “special time” for cuddles included a little addendum.
“Every night, her special time is for cuddles and a night-time story with her mum. And she was extremely excited about the family holiday in Malaysia.”
Source: The Mirror
If this was the usual ritual, it’s likely it was interrupted not just on the night Nora disappeared, but for the fews – and perhaps longer – preceding the incident. We know tha if Meabh was the family members closest to her eldest daughter, and most sought after, she was also often away, often far away. A week before the family met in Malaysia, Meabh was in Sydney on business. Her social media is festooned with trips to Boston, Dallas and New York, especially over the last two years.
As the busy CEO of Foresight Factory, and as a thought leader and trendsetter, there was a lot of pressure on Meabh to be everywhere, to make speeches, to build momentum in the industry and to evangelise the competitive world of brands and marketing agencies.
Where was Nora in all this?
In virtually all the images released to the media, Nora appears by herself. The very special girl who brought so much joy to her parents and siblings, is invariably photographed with no one around her, especially in photos of Nora as an older child.
There is one exception; the image of Nora – a chubbier Nora – sitting beside her mother.
At the funeral a poem from six years earlier was read, not by Meabh, but by Reverend Ruth Patterson.
If this poem was written in 2013, when Nora was nine, it nevertheless provides yet another version of the unique person Nora was once upon a time. It also further illustrates the family dynamics that emerged around Nora’s unusual condition. Obviously the analysis that follows is only one interpretation among several other possibilities:
One part of my [me] is a part unknown, – one of my children is unknown, mysterious
The truth within I know defies, – the truth within Nora, or within her mother, defies the odds, an ironic statement to be sure given the “defiance” of the abduction narrative when Nora disappeared
Not true to mind but true in time, – Nora had been left out of the psychological equation of her own disappearance from the very beginning
The tutor in my life has come. – Nora’s existence is being compared to a “life lesson”
One core to mine is a core passed on, – by figuring out Nora’s situation, by mining her mysterious core, valuable insights can be passed on to others
Its path untraced, its vision blurred, – the reason behind Nora’s condition is unclear, the path ahead uncertain
It reaches heights I cannot learn, -this suggests Meabh felt overwhelmed, at times, with the parental task ahead of her
Instinctive and still brave it runs. – this seems to be a reference to Nora herself, who acts instinctively, and in spite of her condition, bravely
One raucous squeal of hilarity, – this might be the description of a specific moment – from Noisy Nora, or it may be symbolic of Nora’s whole life as Meabh sees it – one long, raucous [unpleasant] squeal of hilarity [something that is fun, but perhaps at someone else’s expense]
Of teasing, squashing, caring fame, – this speaks of the dynamics. None of these words sound positive, and “caring fame” has a strange, almost ominous ring to it. The family become famous as carers of a disabled person
The constant turn of fortunes games, – this is a repeat of an ominous sense of being overwhelmed by fate’s wicked sense of humour
No fun, no punch an easy peace. – this really hits it on the chin, doesn’t it? No fun, no peace, not easy…
One memory is sure and raw, – the sure and raw memory may be the overarching narrative of Nora herself
A glance of free unusual thought, – Nora is a bundle of “unusual thoughts”, and perhaps someone sees her life as a glance, rather than the richer, more self-aware business that most of us have to mull through. This may be a reference to Nora not being quite here with us, not fully conscious. Her ability to share the reality of others is only a glancing one.
Preserves the smiles with every cost, – keeping up a brave face is hard, and extracts a cost
Reflects at rest in bewildered awe. – bewildered and awe are juxtaposed. Bewildered is a negative emotion, awe is positive. What is bewildered awe? Perhaps the feeling one gets as one gets lost in a jungle…
One rebel must beside me stay, – this could be a reference to Nora, or the rebellious thoughts a mother must keep to herself [her constant companion] as she struggles to care for her child. In hindsight, this also feels like the rebellion of the abduction narrative. It’s not real, but it’s necessary for the greater good of the family
The eldest, innocent my care, – this comes right at the end. This is an admission, an acknowledgement of Meabh’s obvious responsibility to look after Nora. The use of “innocence” here is psychological mirroring, even then, of guilt. Obviously Nora is innocent, but so are her two siblings. It shouldn’t be necessary to say this, and yet it is. In fact many of the media latched onto this very word – innocent – following Nora’s funeral. But it’s not innocence, it’s the idea of innocence. Though she was a burden, though she was dependent, though she was noisy, vulnerable and unfathomable, she couldn’t help it, she was innocent. The word hides those negative things behind it, inside of it. In a scenario where the other growing children were showing growing independence, and Nora was not, and where they perhaps required more of their parents attention, stealing precious time away from “precious Nora”, Nora’s “innocence” becomes an issue. Possibly at times it became a crisis. We know Nora’s exit from this world was an ongoing crisis, and one without the fairytale ending of the Gruffalo
The poem ends with two more lines:
No more anxious notes, the prayer, – Nora’s mother is praying for no more anxious moments [a hopeless prayer at the time, but after Nora’s passing, so does the anxiety of her care]. In the church setting, and funeral, there is no talk of responsibility. Instead there is a sentimental refrain of some other, happier, more functional Nora who no longer exists. She is given into the void with a prayer of happiness and acceptance, rather than regret, contrition, or tears
For the gruffest angel ever made. – this is a powerful ending. Nora associated herself with a story where a mouse invents a monster, and then is confronted by it. The mouse then inverts the story, and effectively becomes the monster, or uses the shadow of the monster to wander through the forest. In this sense there is subtle allusion to Nora being a monster of sorts, but also a mouse, an innocent, harmless child, the most “ever made”. In the end, the story of the mouse wandering the woods is the story of an organism trying to finds its way through the woods without getting lost, and while keeping its wits.
The fairy tale proves to be powerful allegory for Nora’s real life adventure in the woods of Malaysia.
The poem proves to be powerful allegory too.
In these – the fairy tale and poem – Nora’s future could be read and her tragic fate anticipated, and thus avoided, even if only in the symbolic sense.
…One rebel must beside me stay…The eldest, innocent my care…
But that would require the writer of the poem and the reader of the fairy tale book to be there in the same capacity, with the same level of care, three, four, five, six years later. There as a genuine reader of the words, and there as a genuine listener of them as well. As thing stand, Nora’s story isn’t a story of innocence, but of innocence lost.
One thought on “Innocence and Innocence Lost: A Tale of Two Noras – and a six-year-old poem”
How eerie that her favorite book was about an innocent mouse avoiding being devoured by a jungle. I wonder if this at all influenced Nóra, perhaps minimizing the potential dangers of a jungle as a place to explore and conquer. Good analysis of that poem.