Life and travel with Lee Mylne

An empty place at the table

Daniel's red t-shirt became the symbol for the foundation in his name.

Daniel’s red t-shirt became the symbol for the foundation in his name.

Christmas can be the loneliest, saddest time of year for some people.  They may not even be alone, but there may be that sense of loneliness that comes even when in a crowd. It’s a feeling of not quite belonging, or of missing someone who should be there.

For some, the feeling is a result of having lost a loved one forever close to Christmas. Anniversaries are always hard, but especially so when they fall close to a time so much associated with family gatherings.

Today, I am thinking especially of the Morcombe family. It is the day that Daniel Morcombe would have celebrated his 23rd birthday, had he not been abducted and murdered at the age of 13.  Twelve days ago, on December 7, I sat alone in my lounge room and watched Daniel’s funeral on television, nine years to the day after he disappeared. I watched in tribute to parents who never gave up on finding their son – one way or another – and were determined his life and death would make a difference to other families.

In one of the most moving parts of the service, Daniel’s father placed on his white coffin the gift-wrapped Christmas presents that had been waiting nearly a decade for him to open. It was the moment that brought me undone, and like many around Australia I wept for this boy and his family.

Daniel went missing on 7 December 2003, while waiting for a bus on a busy Queensland highway as he went Christmas shopping.  In August 2011, a man was charged with his abduction and murder. Daniel’s remains were found a week later, buried in bushland, and he was finally returned to his family in early December 2012.

Daniel Morcombe

Daniel Morcombe

Daniel’s parents, Bruce and Denise, were relentless in their campaign to bring their son home, to find out what had happened to him. Daniel’s bright smile and sparkling blue eyes became familiar to us, his name a household one. His face was in the newspaper, on television, on the side of milk cartons. My eldest daughter – just a year older – came to refer to him by his first name alone, as if he was someone she knew personally. Each piece of news, each potential sighting or witness report was greeted with hope that he might be found.

Along the way, Denise and Bruce Morcombe set up the Daniel Morcombe Foundation to help teach children how to protect themselves and to help young victims of crime.

“We have formed the Foundation not only to keep Daniel’s innocence alive and to honour our son, but to help other families from ever having this nightmare happen to them,” Denise Morcombe writes on the foundation’s website.

The red t-shirt Daniel was wearing when he was abducted became the symbol of the Morcombes’ search for truth and justice. Most of the 2000 people who attended his funeral wore red, or at least a touch of it.

This Christmas the Morcombes – Denise, Bruce, Daniel’s twin Bradley and older brother Dean – will know with certainty that the empty place at their table will never again be filled by their son and brother.  I can’t imagine what that must feel like for them. But I know that I am just one among hundreds of thousands in Australia who have watched their stoic and dignified journey over the past nine years, who admire their courage and tenacity, and who feel for them.

I feel, too, for the parents of the 20 children senselessly gunned down in Connecticut this week.  The death of your child is every parent’s worst nightmare. There will be little comfort for those families as they gather for Christmas this year, or any other.

My children are adults now. One will be at my Christmas table, the other will not. But I know that she will be among people who love her.  Families today are often spread far and wide, and coming together for special celebrations is not always possible.

My other daughter and I will be spending Christmas Day with close family friends whose husband and father died just a few weeks ago, after a long illness. Their house is bright with Christmas lights and decorations.  It will be a day of laughter, good food and wine, and – as it is likely to be very hot – dips in their backyard pool.

There will be empty places at the table. But our memories will fill the space, and we will raise our glasses to absent friends. Hold your children tight, if you have them close by, and celebrate life and love this Christmas Day.

106 Responses to “An empty place at the table”

    • Lee

      I agree completely Christine. They never gave up, and in the end they have the answers, and have been able to farewell their son as they needed to.

      Reply
  1. Penny

    Good on you, Lee. And I hope you have a wonderful Xmas with your friends, sharing the good memories.

    Reply
  2. Bev Malzard

    That was lovely Lee – I saw a sign ‘has anyone seen Daniel’ by the side of the road coming back from the Sunshine Coast when he first disappeared and this particular boy stayed in my mind since then – yes, a relief to his parents but the pain will stay. And yes, raise our glasses to absent friends . . .

    Reply
    • Lee

      Thanks Bev. The pain will stay, but at least they know where Daniel is now. Not knowing was probably the worst part of all.

      Reply
  3. lenzell

    Hey, A good post and yes – grab life and loved ones and hold them dearly. A toast to all those who have an empty seat at their table and those who would have filled the seats. I hope you have a great silly season and that 2013 is a ripper for you. :-)

    Reply
    • Lee

      A ripper year to you too Len. Hope you will be around a table of good conversation and good food too! Merry Christmas to you!

      Reply
  4. Corina

    A lovely blog Lee and so very grounding. On this merry-go-round of life, sometimes we need to stop, breathe and appreciate what we have and think of others who are hurting. I wish you health and happiness in 2013 beautiful lady.

    Reply
  5. Rob

    A most moving piece Lee, one of the finest blogs I’ve read about the real spirit of Christmas. Wishing you and family a wonderful festive season and all the best for 2013.

    Reply
    • Lee

      Thank you Rob. I consider that a great compliment. All best wishes to you and yours for Christmas and beyond.

      Reply
  6. Ella Rychlewski

    Very touching post. But people don’t have to have passed on to be empty places at the table, at lot of families, like mine, are separated by jobs, governments and other reasons. So we also keep the faith and wait…

    Reply
    • Lee

      Yes, I agree with you completely. There are many reasons for the empty place – as I wrote, one of my children will be absent due to distance and the cost of getting home, and I will miss her hugely. But I know she’ll be here another time.

      Reply
  7. Debra Kolkka

    It has been unbearable watching the Daniel story unfold. My heart breaks every time I see his parents on TV. I hope some of their suffering ends when the trial is over and the killer is sent to jail.

    Reply
    • Lee

      I know, it has been an amazing story to follow all these years. And you are right, it is not over for Daniel’s family yet, until the trial is over.

      Reply
    • Lee

      Thank you. I’ve only been blogging about six months (but a journalist all my working life) so it was a big thrill for me to be Freshly Pressed! Very exciting.

      Reply
  8. littlewing

    Beautiful. This would be a great piece for a newspaper or magazine. Thank you for posting about the Daniel Morcombe Foundation

    Reply
    • Lee

      Thank you. I am a freelance journalist, but wrote this really just for myself. The Daniel Morcombe story has been well covered by staff writers of the local papers but my blog gave me the chance to write something that I felt had wider resonance even for those who had not heard his story.

      Reply
  9. dsmythjr

    Excellent… These tragic events have a silver lining. The victims are in a better place, but the impact of their stories does more for us than many may be able to fathom.

    Reply
    • Lee

      Thank you. Daniel Morcombe’s parents were determined that their family’s trauma would not be in vain, and worked tirelessly to help others – and to keep children safe.

      Reply
  10. Joe Owens

    Grief touchges us in all times of the year but it seems grief in this season seems so much more profound. The unnatural death of a child is horrible no matter what time of the year it comes, with a criminal death wrenching our guts. I know it is difficult for Daniel’s parents every holiday trying to iomagine what it should be like.

    Reply
    • Lee

      Anniversaries and special family occasions seem to magnify our loss, don’t they? Other days can be just days when we go on with life…

      Reply
  11. lexiesnana

    Beautiful post.We too will have people missing from our table this year but we will hold them in our hearts and thank God that we had them.

    Reply
  12. creativemind

    I have no words..its so sensual..it touched my senses, i miss my family n m so glad i have them with me ..thanks a lot lee..your post gave me a happy realization..!

    Reply
  13. phillipdews

    This has touched a heart string for me. I lost my mother Christmas Day 2010 under tragic circumstances. So there will be an empty seat at our table as well. However no parent should bury their children, Many thanks for writing this it has made me think how Lucky I and other are over this festive period.
    Merry Chrismas!

    Reply
    • Lee

      Thank you. I do not know the Morcombes, but I know I am not the only person who thinks they deserve much praise for the way they have responded to their personal tragedy.

      Reply
  14. ucanpreschool

    Thank you for your acknowledgement of pain and loss yet a strong reminder of our ability to embrace that pain with love. I just posted about the way that we have let thes sick perpetrators rule our lives. We must fight back by keeping our children safe and for every act of horror we must commit ten (or a hundred) of compassion.

    Reply
    • Lee

      The Morcombes are a great example of people responding to their grief with great dignity and with the future of other children in their minds. Thanks for your comments.

      Reply
  15. restlessjo

    I still watch, with sorrow, the efforts of the McCann family to find their daughter, Madeleine. Probably because I have a home in Portugal, and had visited the village from which she “disappeared” only days before it happened, it moved me in the way that Daniel’s murder has obviously touched you. Another family with a space at the table. I don’t know how they bear it.

    Reply
    • Lee

      Yes, I too thought of the McCann family when I was writing this. The highly publicised cases tend to stick in our memories, especially if they are “close to home” in some way. I don’t know how they bear it either.

      Reply
  16. annkitsuetchin

    Nice, we have a street that used to be decorated by the residents. This year, people complained it was not worth going, forgetting that the residents, on their own accord decorated the street.

    Reply
    • Lee

      Decorating the street can give a great sense of community…it shouldn’t be just so others will come and look it, but if they see it, they can hopefully appreciate it!

      Reply
  17. Sab.

    Very touching, very lovely. You speak a lot of people’s mind out there. Hope everyone appreciate everything before it becomes too late and turns into regrets. And I am always the daughter who cannot be home for Christmas, though my family and I do not really celebrate it but it would still great to be home always. Wishing you a Merry Christmas and have a good holiday, spending the quality time with your beloved.

    Reply
  18. thephilosopheress

    I can’t stop crying! This is my worst nightmare too. May he RIP and may God mend his family’s broken hearts.

    Reply
    • Lee

      Every parent’s worst nightmare…no matter how old your children get. None of us can imagine what it would be like to be in that position.

      Reply
  19. Ray's Mom

    I feel for the many families who share that missing place at the table this Christmas, and every day of the year.

    God bless.

    Reply
  20. sherihaskins

    Thank you for sharing. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! My dad passed away December 21, 2012. We buried him on Christmas Eve.

    Reply
    • Lee

      My condolences on the loss of your father. Mine died 10 years ago,on December 6, and I remember well how hard that first Christmas without him was. Thank you for sharing too, and my best wishes to you and your family.

      Reply
  21. Shannon

    Here in the US, we are all loving our kids just a little more these days. Thank you for your thoughtful post, and bless the parents of murdered children. My sister, a nurse, lost a patient yesterday, on Christmas. It about undid her because she knows how hard it will be for the family for years to come. But a young life being cut short for no reason at all, the most difficult to reconcile indeed.

    Reply
    • Lee

      Losing a child – whether to violence, accident or illness – is hard to contemplate (at any age, but much more so when they have hardly lived at all).

      Reply
  22. Megan Olson

    I have had similar thoughts all season. I probably thought of the Christmas presents that were meant to go to the victims of Sandy Hook 100 times. I wondered what it would be like to walk down the stairs and see all of those gifts I had so carefully picked out for my child and knowing they would never open them. I wondered over and over again what the parents were going to do with them. I eventually decided, if it were me, I would have given them t a child in need. Perhaps at an orphanage. Just so that the love that it took to choose them wasn’t without a recipient. This piece was incredibly touching. Thanks for writing it.

    Reply
  23. neonspndx

    I so agree and relate to the sentiment you’ve expressed here. I’ve also written something similar about embracing what you’ve got. It’s so easy this time of year to look around and say well why did I have to experience loss. Why does that kid get to have his mom around the table when I don’t… This year I made a choice to embrace the love and family I do have and celebrate the holidays with calm and appreciation.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • Lee

      I read your piece. I smiled as I read it. You sound like you have it worked out…embracing what you have and no longer pining for “perfect”. Love and laughter…can’t beat that. Happy holidays! And I love the last line of your post! A glass half full, indeed!

      Reply
  24. Chas Spain

    Thanks Lee – like many here I found it hard to write over Christmas because of the empty chairs and because – for so many there is not even a table to sit at. But we had a beautiful Boxing Day in glorious sunshine at Barwon Heads with our family to remember and celebrate those whose loss we still feel.

    Reply
    • Lee

      Thanks for sharing. I read your post. We are still trying to find a time and place to scatter my sister’s ashes…it’s a hard final thing to do….

      Reply
      • Chas Spain

        Hi Lee – like so many occasions that have a sense of sadness – I can only look back at how lovely the day was. The beautiful sky – seeing all the kids. It was so positive and, since my aunt hadn’t wanted a funeral service, it was a helpful time for those of us who need some ritual to work through it all.

  25. alyssaoursler

    My mom expressed the same sentiment this holiday — can’t imagine a holiday with someone missing. You put it into words beautifully.

    Reply
  26. housewifedownunder

    Your post reminded me of a family in a town near to where I used to live who kept their Christmas tree up all year round. They had a son who went missing around Christmas time many years ago and they left the tree up so that he could find his way home again, because he was too young to know his own address. The area they lived in has long since turned into a drug infested ghetto, but they haven’t moved and as far as I know, they still have their Christmas tree by the front window. I always think of them at Christmas, even though I don’t know them, because I imagine every Christmas must just be a painful reminder for them of the child they lost, instead of a joyful celebration with family. I wonder if they will ever find out what happened to their son.

    Reply
    • Lee

      What a terribly sad story. I think we tend to forget that there are many families with missing children who go through that trauma – and find their own ways of coping. Thanks for sharing this with us.

      Reply
  27. kenniche

    Admiro a los padres de Daniel por su determinación para seguir adelante, aún siendo padre no me puedo imaginar la desperación y el dolor sufrido por ellos, yo sinceramente no estoy seguro si lo soportaría, si no supiera que el Señor tiene algo destinado para su alma, muchas gracias por esta historia.

    Reply

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