Numb with Grief

When the first little traveler was nearly two I decided to search for some child care options. My pregnancy with the second little traveler was proving to be a physical challenge that I wasn’t winning. Each morning I would kneel in front of the toilet while the first traveler patted my back saying “You okay Mummy? I sing you song?” I’d lost about 8 kilos and my energy levels were at their lowest when I decided it was time to outsource, the first little traveler needed someone to play with who wasn’t running to the toilet on a half hourly basis.

I found a fabulous child care centre at the local mall, it was up on the 3rd floor and even though the first little traveler wasn’t keen on attendance, we persisted in fronting up everyday. Our morning routine was always exactly the same. After arriving in the car park, I would walk roughly ten steps towards the door, throw up in the bin, wave to the security guards, who would then smile and wave back, and then the first little traveler and I would continue towards the escalators. Every. Single. Day.

When I was choosing child care my criteria was pretty standard. I wanted it to be clean, I wanted good staff, great facilities, fun activities, and most of all I wanted the first little traveler to enjoy it.

These are the things I didn’t check for.

I didn’t ask to see the emergency evacuation procedure. I didn’t ask if the staff were trained in the event of a fire, and I didn’t ever once consider to check the exits or stairwells. I just assumed that of course they were trained, of course they knew what to do! I didn’t once consider that I would find myself racing to that mall pleading to get inside to find my baby girl. For that is the unthinkable, the unimaginable.

Today may well be remembered as one of Doha’s darkest. For those who have announced to friends and family that Doha is a wonderfully safe place to raise our children, today will perhaps be remembered as the day that innocence was lost. As a community, we are, as my friend Erika said this evening “numb with grief”. Stories were stolen, history that had been formed in the shape of a grandparents dream, was erased. The unthinkable happened.

Thirteen children were trapped inside the nursery, it is believed their exit, a staircase, had collapsed from the heat of a fire. Where exactly the fire began is yet to be confirmed. The nursery was in the interior of the mall, meaning you walked through a virtual rabbit warren of corridors to get there. From what I understand, when the firefighters arrived at those corridors they were considered impenetrable and too dangerous to enter, it was decided the only other way to get there, was through the ceiling. By the time the hole was cut, it was too late, they were gone. Thirteen beautiful children, four teachers and two firefighters. Smoke inhalation meant that their little bodies were carried lifeless from the building.

As you can imagine there is heartbreaking story after heartbreaking story. Families who lost more than one child, children that weren’t meant to be there today, a family has lost their beautiful angelic triplets. There were moments this afternoon when the community joined together trying to do anything they could while there was still hope. People sent prayers and wishes to mothers who were desperately waiting for answers. The unthinkable, the unimaginable.

As newspaper reports were filed this evening, journalist have felt it necessary to break us down into nationalities. Three children from New Zealand, three children from Spain, Northern Arab expats and Korean expats were all listed. And why not, as expats, we do it ourselves. We are constantly reminded of our homeland, we ask each other regularly “where’s home for you?” “Are you heading home for the Summer?”

What is often forgotten though, is the fact that we have two communities. We work together, form committees, work at school fairs, play golf, go swimming, camp in the desert and share birthdays, Ramadan and Christmas. We form friendships and bonds that last for lifetimes. We are our own community, no matter where we are from. We become one.

Today I watched what can only be described as an explosion of grief. We hugged in the school yard, we cried in car parks, we made calls from the office with our heads in our hands. We put ourselves in the shoes of those that will never be the same again. We are all horrified. We are shell shocked, but before we lay blame, before we get angry, we must all come together to support the families affected today.

There are many questions tonight. Questions about fire alarms, sprinklers, emergency staff and evacuation procedures. All are valid and all need to be answered. The most important question though is “What can we do?”

We can show our support. We need to front up. We need to be there.

In a time of grief and great tragedy we need to do what expats do best. Get on with the job. Join together as a truly international community and show that it doesn’t matter where you’re from, or which God you pray to, we are all in this together. We all have the same wish. To come home to our families at the end of each day. To be safe.

*Tomorrow at 5pm in Aspire Park there will be a gathering to support families who have lost loved ones in the Villagio Fire.

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  1. Just so so sad.

    • So sorry for you loss. Many lessons to be learned by reading the story of America’s worst School fire by searching Wikipedea for the Our Lady of the Angels School Fire of 1958 in which 3 teachers and 95 children were killed and many more were injured.

      The article is a jumping off place for those seeking to understand what standards should have been in place in your community. It caused sweeping reforms of school and workplace standards in the US and is one of the reasons I went through so many fire drills as a child.

      My prayers are with you.

  2. Some things will never make sense. There are no words, and yet, never enough of them. Pages and pages could be filled. From Los Angeles, I send my sympathies. Without the blogosphere this would not have crossed my radar, so I thank you for that. News from the US goes everywhere, but we don’t always bring in as much as we share.

  3. Oh, I’m so very, very sorry to hear such terrible news. Oh, the children.

    I will check with all my friends to make sure they’re aware of emergency exit strategies for their children at daycare, preschool and schools today. x

  4. Not sure what to say, but my eyes are full of tears. I can’t imagine it. Every mother’s nightmare. I don’t often pray, but tonight I do. For every one of you in Doha. Vix xx

  5. Same. I followed it unfolding on Twitter. The angst. The hope. The sadness. Love to you and yours. May your community strength shine through.

  6. I just read the paper and raced over here to check on you. Speechless. x

  7. Saw the news online this morning and immediately thought about you. My heart’s just breaking for the lost.


  8. So terribly, terribly heartbreaking. I can’t begin to imagine what those poor families must be experiencing. It’s beyond my emotional comprehension. Your words, as always, are respectful and beautiful.

  9. Kirsty imagine me there with you holding your hand and offering my shoulder. So sad for the people who have lost loved ones and for the children who will never know what it means to grow old. Big hugs x

  10. I only got halfway through before I couldn’t read any more. K, I have no words

  11. Nothing to add. Just sadness. Life is so fragile.

  12. Parents aren’t meant to outlive their children 🙁

  13. I just heard the radio announcement heard Doha and my heart leapt through my mouth. What a horrible thing, just so tragic 🙁 my thoughts are with the entire community. Xx

  14. Oh Kirsty. There are absolutely no words. Even less ability to comprehend it.

  15. I cannot imagine the agony of those families. Huge hugs.

  16. NZ to Perth says

    I just saw this on Such a tragedy, for all the families. Can’t even imagine how they feel, and sending lots of love their way. I am grateful for every time my little ones have come home from their little centres, talking excitedly about their ‘fire dwill.’

  17. This is just awful, and even more awful that so many people have lost their children. That should never happen.

  18. I just heard the news and also had to duck over here as my first thoughts were for you and your family, and all those precious children and families now in grief. Couldn’t help cry for those lost lives and the families left to cope with the fall out.

  19. Utterly incomprehensible… I heard of this tragedy on the news and my first thought was of you, hoping that there was no connection. I see now that I was so naively wrong – it is one big community and you must all be in such pain. Again, I am so sorry for this devastating loss x

  20. My thoughts are with everyone there.

    Yet another senseless tragedy. Yet more parents and families shattered. This morning the first thing I saw on the news was this. Yesterday it was children and families killed in Houla Syria. Tomorrow I’m sure there will be more innocents killed or dying, somewhere. It makes me want to hide in the closet and hug my daughter so tight. But how can you protect them from everything? 🙁

  21. K, I watched the frantic tweets & FB status last night/early morning…. Like others here, checking on you. Oh love. No words … Imagine a line of outstretched hands to you now from here… Much love Denyse

  22. Kirsty, I am so sorry. My thoughts and love are with you all, over there. Utterly heartbreaking. Makes no sense. Crying for those families who will never be the same again.


  23. My thoughts are with you all. Just in comprehension-able heartbreak. xxxxooo

  24. I have no words. X

  25. This is just so, so sad. Incomprehensible. You and your community members are in my thoughts. x

  26. I heard about this from Sara. Inconceivable that they didn’t have any safety precautions – no alarms, no sprinklers…those poor babies. Those poor families…

  27. I don’t know what to say.

    Thank you for writing about it. Sometimes we dull the pain of tragedies like this with platitudes about how safe or how different it is where we live. You made it sharp and pointy and real for the rest of us.

  28. I just read about it in the news. My thoughts are with those poor, poor families. It is too shocking for words.

  29. Anonymous says

    Saddest thing to happen. Since yesterday I couldn’t even imagine or accept what has happened. God please give the strength to the families and friends in this hardest time.
    How true Kirsty, we take it granted that health and safety will be everyone’s priority.

  30. Thank you for writing this; I agree that this little community just lost its perfect innocence and it’s intolerably sad.

  31. I heard about this on the radio this morning. I feel sick thinking about it. It is tragic. Thinking of you and your community xx

  32. Oh Kirsty – impossible to digest this tragedy – unthinkable grief for so many families. Wishing you and your friends solace in your own community and families – and many hugs to you x

  33. Oh, so very very sad, you have been in my thoughts ever since you posted on FB yesterday for Doha residents. My heart is aching for those families, and all of you in Doha.

  34. Anonymous says

    Unbelievably sad, I cannot even begin to imagine the grief….makes me want to wake my youngest 2 up from their sleeps just so I can give them a cuddle. Thoughts and prayers go out to all the families affected and especially to those of you that are now helping pick up the pieces. x

  35. So very sorry to hear this sad story. Prayers to all the families who have been touched by this tragedy.

  36. I can’t even begin to imagine how those families are coping. What a terrible thing to happen. My heart and prayers go out to them.

    As an expat myself, I look back on bringing our kids up in 11 different countries – and you are so right, safety and security although a top priority, were not really on the list when looking for a nursery.

    Wishing you and your community strength at this difficult time.

  37. We had a fire drill at the kindergarten where I teach English here in Seoul just last week. All those little faces trotting obediently down the stairs flashed across my mind as I was reading this. No words. Just tears and support for your community across the miles.

  38. Such a horrible time here in Doha, may they learn from there mistakes that this will never happen again.

    May the families find comfort in knowing we are all mourning with them.

  39. It’s too horrible to read about even from thousands of kms…… prayers for all the families involved….

  40. Oh my gosh, it’s just horrendous. Those poor families questioning why, how. Thoughts are with them and you all xx

  41. Anonymous says

    Kirsty, you have beautifully put into words exactly how we are all feeling in Doha at the moment. Now more than ever, our community needs to pull together for all of its members affected by this utterly devastating tragedy.

  42. I can’t imagine anything worse than this for those families xxx

  43. Thank you for another piece of beautiful writing, though I wish it didn’t exist.

  44. K – what a devastating situation – my thoughts are with those families who are broken.

    Your blog – you write so lovingly and bring the stories we often receive glossed over by the media to our computers. Thank you for sharing.

    Stay safe, and much love.

  45. Kirsty, this is just so tragic. I’m reading this and watching my daughter’s swimming class with tears. Your community will be a terribly sad one and I hope everyone gets the support that so desperately need. Take care.

  46. So heartbreaking. Numb with grief says it all.

  47. Anonymous says

    So awful. I have been a part of a small expat community so can understand how it must be affecting you all. I can’t even begin to comprehend what those families must be going through but my thoughts are with them. X

  48. Anonymous says

    I’ve been waiting for your post today because i needed someone that was able to put it into words. just such a sad and horrible for our small community in Doha.

  49. I’m so so sad and incredibly sorry to hear about this awful tragedy.. Sending love and comfort to all of you from Western Australia. Amy xxx

  50. Anonymous says

    I’m going to lay flowers by the villaggio sign and hope that it encourages others to do the same, to make a small memorial.

  51. Thank you.
    Last night I posted a link to a news site on my Facebook. I simply did not have any words. Just now I posted a link to your post – thank you for having words when I don’t.

  52. Tanya Hamilton says

    Thanks for sharing your story Kirsty. Yesterday and last night, as for many of us in Doha, was filled with tears, disbelief and sleeplessness. It is unimaginable that any family should have to deal with the loss of their child or children whether small or grown up. You are so right, whatever we need to do for these families, we should do first and foremost. Thanks for communicating the thoughts of many of us.

  53. Beautifully written. Any of us who have left our child in the care of others is not thinking back to where we left them. Did we ask those questions? Did we look at the safety procedures? I can not imagine the hurt and grief the community is experiencing.
    My prayers go out to all of Doha.

  54. That is awful, just awful!

    Community is so important during unimaginably tragic times like this and my thoughts are with you all over there.

  55. I have farewelled my own children and so I have an inkling of how these parents are feeling but I can’t begin to comprehend how those parents will cope with losing three children at once. While my heart breaks for them I am incredibly glad my sister inexplicably refused all invitations to go there yesterday.

    I can’t offer anything that will help those families in this awful time. I will think of them as you all gather in Aspire park and with all of you, I will be thankful that my family is safe today.

  56. Heartbreaking news and I’m so sorry for such an incomprehensible loss to a community. S x

  57. Oh 🙁

  58. Anonymous says

    Beautiful words from you about this awful tragedy… Thank You! //Lotta

  59. Sandra Crane says

    Hi Kirsty, your post made me cry again. This is so incomprehendible…How can this happen in a so-called modern city and state of the art mall ? Villagio is a place that all of us go to regularly with our families and we are suppose to feel safe there. I can’t even imagine how the parents and loved ones of the children, teachers and firefighters must be feeling right now.

  60. I never checked the Emergency procedures at my boy’s pre-school either.
    I have to do that today.

  61. Anonymous says

    Thank you so much for finding the courage to write and share your very personal heartbreak, my mother read it out to me over the phone having to stop periodically to take it in.
    We are devastated for all the parents today and wonder how will you all walk through this. I am encouraged and comforted to hear the sense of community and family with you who will stand with you and love you through this nightmare.
    I am in Australia my brother lives in Qatar everything in me wants to come and love on you guys, I will pray for you all. All my love miles separate us but thats all every mother and father in the world today who has heard this tragedy is grieving with you.

  62. My heart broke when I heard this news this morning. I’m sorry to hear it was so close to home for you.

    I’m thinking of you, and the other families affected by this awful tragedy.

  63. Heartbroken to hear this news… More heartbreak reading your words and trying to make sense of the unimaginable. Like others have said – we hold your hands across the miles, hoping to bring some strength and comfort during the darkest of times xxx

  64. We will join in prayers this afternoon and hereafter for the loss of everybody….so sad and heartbreaking to hear. May peace be all around you everyday.

  65. What a terrible, utter waste. Thinking of all those families, and for all your friends. So sorry to hear this xx

  66. Simply heartbreaking. Weeping with you, those families and the entire community.
    Ronnie xo

  67. Anonymous says

    This is just heartbreaking news. I for one never felt for one minute that Doha was a safe place to bring up my daughter, I never felt safe myself what with nearly getting mowed down on the way to work each day. I was never confident about the care I would receive if I was sick or injured. I was always very uneasy leaving her in the care of others, and ultimately the reason why I had to come home to Oz (it made me unwell). But this is just heartbreakingly terrible.

  68. So so heartbreaking , to lose a chld is the very worse you can experience. I cannot imagine the grief of losing two or three. Numb with grief sums it up.

  69. Anonymous says

    I was at a short trip in Doha when i heard the news – and there was a sudden silence everywhere, a huge void – those who don’t have kids and those that have kids that go to other day cares – everyone was shocked and touched by this incident. May God bring patience and shed light on these families to help them get through what is the most difficult situation anyone could face. Sincere condolences go out to each parent, family member who has witnessed a loss.

  70. Hi I own a nursery in Dubai called Chubby Cheeks Nursery – would like to convey our entire team and parents are with all the families in Qatar. Our heart pains with their sorrow and we are all with them.

  71. No words. Just love and strength for your community.

  72. Nothing useful to add except beautiful post Kirsty.

  73. Same. No words. It’s punch-in-the-guts sad.

  74. I have been thinking of you all day. I have also been thinking of those parents who have lost children… how would you ever, ever come to terms with such grief?
    Beautiful post at a horrifying time. I wish your community healing and hope. xxxx

  75. We returned to the US last summer after living in Doha for two years, and I heard the news yesterday. I can’t stop thinking about this, and I lift up all those affected in prayer.

  76. My heart is weeping. I am 19 years old. I do not have children. Due to Serious Illness, it is likely that I never will. Eighteen months ago, I buried my best friend. She was just sixteen years old. It was expected; She fought long and hard. There is one thing that I shall never forget for as long as I have footprints. Her Mummy, her two sisters and her baby brother standing at the back of the hearse, saying one final goodbye to her coffin. And I can’t help but imagine this, thirteen times over. The most terrible thing in the world is a tiny coffin. I pray that they didn’t suffer. I pray that they passed with as much peace as physically possible. And I pray that tonight, their Mum’s and Dad’s can close their eyes, and hold their babies in their dreams.

  77. Anonymous says

    sadness as we heard the news, thinking about the poor familys affacted in Doha. We will remember them in our prayers.

  78. Anonymous says

    A lot of strenght for all the parents and sisters and brothers,the whole community,like you said.
    No more words to say. Thinking ofyou all.,

  79. As an ex-Doha expat and a mum whose kids were in nursery when we were there in 2006, I am absolutely devastated for the families concerned, and for the community in Doha. It feels like “that could have been us”. My son was the same age then as the triplets who were lost. He had wonderful teachers and carers, as I am sure those who were in the Villagio nursery were too. I am absolutely heartbroken for everyone there – you are all in my thoughts.

  80. Anonymous says

    Thank you for giving voice to the grief that is engulfing our small community today. Powerlessness and dismay at the little souls lost and the great souls who tried to save them.

  81. Anonymous says

    My heart is with you. Sally.

  82. Oh my goodness, this is heartbreaking. My sincerest condolences, and a heartfelt than you to remind me to check on the procedures in my own children’s schools. Such a tragic loss.

  83. As soon as I heard about this, I thought of you. So sad. My thoughts are with you all x

  84. Anonymous says

    What a terrible tragedy – my heart goes out to the families and friends affected – my thoughts and love to all.

  85. Beautiful post Kirsty. Such a terrible tragedy. Thinking of you and your community in Doha.

  86. Such a tragedy – so beautifully written. Our thoughts and love are with you and the families across the distance. xo

  87. Anonymous says

    A month back I lost my mom. My grandmom lost her daughter. With tears in my eyes I can just pray to god.I can imagine the plight of all those who list there lovely little angles. May god give them the strength to bear that irrepairable loss. Rest I peace all the lovely souls. I still can’t figure out why god do all such things that r not meant to happen.

  88. I love what you say about the shared international community that is life in the Gulf. I’m no longer physically part of that community now that i have returned home but i share in your grief & sorrow nonetheless.

  89. First of all I want to express my sympathy to the families that lost their children and ofc to the families that lived this tragedy also. Hope that time will soften their grief.

    I never read before your blog and today a good friend of mine living in Dubai, forwarded your post to me. I am from Greece and I have a 19months old little girl. Your post just showed me that these kind of tragic can happen to everyone despite the country he lives. To be honest when me and my husband chosen the child care centre we also never looked anything about the security issues. I have not checked or asked what will happen in case of fire or earthquake. Are the babysitters/teachers well known any procedure to follow? Is there any procedure to follow in order to move the children safely outside the building? I have already called the care center for an appointment in order to discuss all this issues. Thank you for marking the security issues. Thank you.

  90. Oh Sweetheart. Like Vix, tears are pricking my eyes in faraway Australia. I have goosebumps. It’s incomprehensible. On any level. Let alone imagine what those parents feel like. Words seem so inadequate at such times. J x

  91. Anonymous says

    I was born and raised in Qatar. I’m 17 now and not once did I ever think that something that is so indescribably horrible will ever happen and affect so many families all at once. I may be an arab and of a different religion, but the death of all of the 19 beautiful souls (no matter where they’re from or whom they believe in) has left me weeping to this minute and I only pray that Qatar’s community as a whole can stand up and be there for those who have lost loved ones. My prayers go to their families and all those who were touched by their lives.
    *To God we have been brought, and to God we must return*
    May their souls rest in peace and may their families feel solace and comfort knowing that we all, as one, mourn with them. x

  92. Anonymous says

    That is just so sad and heart wrenching! I will certainly send this on and make sure that school’s read this. My sincere condolences to the families involved. We will keep you in our thoughts and prayers. God Bless.

  93. thangs

  94. You capture the expat community sentiment so clearly. We all call different places home, but we are here together, sharing the grief of this.


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