I had the pleasure of interviewing Denise Morcombe last year for an article which appeared in Insight Magazine.
As the world watches the current events surrounding the trial of Daniel's accused murderer we're reminded of the Mum that's behind it all.
I arrived for my interview with Denise Morcombe on a typically hot February morning. She's still in a meeting but pops out to see if I’d like a glass of juice - a small motherly act that speaks volumes about the family environment Daniel was raised in.
We all know too well the details surrounding the disappearance of Daniel Morcombe in 2003 and cried in our living rooms at his parent’s heartfelt pleas for information in the subsequent 8 years. With an arrest made in August 2011 of the person accused of his murder and the discovery of Daniels remains shortly after, it was assumed that perhaps this would finally mean some peace and closure for the Morcombe family. But thanks to an outpouring of support, The Daniel Morcombe Foundation will continue to spread its message of child safety. “On August 13 last year the foundation really exploded”, explains Denise. “Before then it was just me, Bruce and the committee.”
Denise refers to “The Foundation” often. It’s clear that its existence is the focus that this mother needs to survive the unthinkable. “What happened to Daniel isn’t right. We have to get out there to tell the kids and their parents. Our message is no different to what anyone has said before, but the kids relate to Daniel, he was a real boy just like you.”
Denise describes Daniel as being a shy boy. Best friends with both his brothers, he enjoyed riding his motorbike and was good at maths. “He was just a good kid,” says Denise. Daniel would now be 22, a young man. An image far removed from the photo ingrained in our memories of the 13 year old boy with the cheeky smile. “Who knows what he would have become. He loved animals, so maybe a vet. We’ll never know.”
The sadness in her eyes when she speaks of Daniel defies ordinary comprehension. Her weariness is beyond ordinary too, as if she knows a kind of tiredness from which sleep offers no respite or remedy. How she survives, not even she knows. “People say we’ll collapse if we keep going like this. We haven’t yet. But we haven’t been through the trial yet,” Denise says apprehensively.
At this, I remind Denise of the countless scenarios she must have saved children from simply by the extensive coverage of Daniels story. To Denise, the pride she feels in this makes it all worthwhile. “We love talking to the kids. We’re always getting cards and photos from the kids all dressed in their red. It really helps.”
It’s clear that her work with the foundation is her purpose now. This is a profound change from the woman who had previously very little community involvement. Prior to Daniels disappearance life revolved around work and family, a very typical suburban lifestyle. Today Denise is in constant communication with schools, community groups and politicians. “If you had asked me to speak in public 8 years ago I would have said no way. To me everyone should be treated the same whether it’s a school kid or a politician. They all deserve the same respect.”
Her philosophy on life and her answer to the big question, “why me?” is honestly raw, “we’ve been dealt a pretty crap hand. But you can’t go back in time and change what’s happened.” Like all mothers, Denise is working tirelessly on the cause closest to her heart, her son. This gives her purpose, strength and fortitude despite the most painful of hurdles.
Her husband Bruce meanders by occasionally, keeping a protective ear on our conversation. The solidarity of their relationship is apparent and Denise says that Bruce helps to keep her strong. “We’ve worked together since 1992. Spending 24 hours a day together has its moments,” she chuckles, “but you have to have a laugh about it. We go just about everywhere together.”
Denise has a wicked little laugh and shares with me her love for a good joke. “For a long time we didn’t know if we were allowed to laugh, but you have to,” she says. “You can’t be serious all the time and walk around crying all day. I don’t want to, that’s not what we do. You have to be able to have a joke and a laugh.” Denise Morcombe's smile is rarely shown in the media coverage surrounding her family. I feel privileged to be in a room when it fills with her laughter. It's a moving reminder that while life may never be the same, it can still go on despite unimaginable loss.
One can hope to never have a complete understanding of the mindset it takes to survive your worst nightmare. How would we really stand up if our worst nightmare became our daily reality? Denise Morcombe is a woman on a mission to make sure we'll never have to find out.