The O’Keeffe family have been navigating a living hell since their son Dan disappeared in 2011. But with the grim discovery of his remains under the family home earlier this week, their living hell has become their worst nightmare.
From the outside, it may seem that finding Dan would at least end the agony of not knowing where he was. But as Dan’s mother, Lori O’Keeffe has said, the discovery of Dan’s body is still too raw to bring them any closure.
“It certainly wasn’t the outcome we were expecting,” she told the Daily Mail.
Dr Sarah Wayland, grief researcher with University of New England says that regardless of how long a person has been missing, discovering that the person has died is still traumatic and shocking.
“That glimmer of hope is extinguished. Just like with all losses there is a kaleidoscope of emotions and responses,” she explains.
According to Dr Wayland, for some families, particularly those where there is a known homicide but the body is absent, the location of remains can signal a sense of justice or reunion.
But for others where the disappearance is vague finding the person’s remains can be disabling and horrifying.
“When the news comes it can be both shocking and confusing as many may have been hoping for the missing person to walk back through the door.
“The psychological loss of the person might not yet have been felt even though they had been physically absent for some time,” Dr Wayland explains.
It is estimated that 100 people go missing in Australia every day. In the majority cases, the person returns of their own accord, or they are found safe and well.
But in too many cases the missing person’s family are left to struggle on without answers. Dr Wayland says that for families that are still waiting for news of their loved one, the discovery of Dan’s body will be felt particularly strongly.
“When a high profile case reaches resolution it can shift the hope for others - perhaps they too will not get the answers they wanted,” she explains.
22-year-old Amelia Kaiser says that when her mother went missing in 2013 the O’Keeffe family reached out to her and her siblings.
“[Dan’s sister] Loren O’Keeffe and her entire family inspired hope when we had none. They taught us that it’s ok to grieve,” she says.
“This is not how we wanted Dan’s story to end. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.”
In Dan’s case, the ripple of shock and sadness has been felt throughout Australia. Last year Loren O’keeffe told The Weekly that Dan’s ‘missing person’ Facebook account had spread like wildfire.
“Dan’s persona as a ‘guy next door’ shone through and the public were really engaged with the campaign to find him,” she said.
Now that same Facebook page is being used as a place for the public to leave their condolences.
But while we can offer our thoughts and sympathy, we will never know the depths of despair that the O’Keeffe family are living though.
Anyone struggling with the news or mental illness should phone Lifeline on 131 114