Helen McKendry emerged from the mortuary in the Irish Republic that holds what are almost certainly the remains of her disappeared mother, looking as if she had never smiled in her life.
But despite her pained and distressed expression as she spoke to reporters at Louth General Hospital in Dundalk, her husband, Seamus, said: "It might not be very apparent in Helen's demeanour but believe me that's happiness. Happiness, that's how I'd describe it - it's release and relief."
Inside the mortuary police and pathologists were examining the skeletal remains found at a nearby beach on Wednesday of a woman who had been shot in the head. They are almost certainly the remains of Mrs McKendry's mother, Jean McConville, a mother of 10 children who was abducted, killed and secretly buried by the IRA in 1972. Her children have been forced to suffer decades of incomplete grieving, tormented by the uncertainty of their mother's fate.
Mrs McKendry and other family members were taken yesterday into a mortuary room, in what was described as a traumatic experience.
The remains believed to be Mrs McConville were found on Shilling Hill beach by children digging a sandcastle. They found first a blouse and then a shoe and then some bones.
It may be up to six weeks before DNA tests formally confirm the body is that of Mrs McConville but there is little doubt. It was found just along the coast from Templetown beach, where excavations were done several years ago. An IRA statement said they had buried her at Templetown. One theory is that the organisation mistakenly gave the wrong location, since Shilling Hill is near by.
Jean McConville, 37, a Protestant who married a Catholic, was abducted from her flat in the Falls Road district of Belfast in 1972 and killed. It was at the height of the Troubles when about 40 people a month were being killed.
The IRA denied it had killed her. It was hardly a heroic act to kill a woman who was 4ft 11in, widowed, and the sole carer of 10 children. Republicans spread rumours that she had run off with a loyalist. Those who inquired were denounced as "anti-republican scum". Later it was muttered she had been an informer.
The McConville children were left to fend for themselves among largely unsympathetic neighbours. Eventually they were taken into care, many of them leading troubled lives.
Mrs McKendry, according to her husband, has tried to take her life and has been prone to bouts of depression and violent mood swings. She said: "I really do think it's my mother's remains. All I've ever wanted, from the day she disappeared, was to find out the truth."
Another of the children, Michael, said: "No one understands how much pressure we've been through this last 30 years. We need to bury our mother in peace, in a dignified manner. These people who murdered my mother, I forgive them for doing it. They probably didn't much know right from wrong."Reuse content