Daniel Morcombe (right) with his twin brother. Picture: supplied
Daniel Morcombe (right) with his twin brother. Picture: supplied

The loss of a child is felt by everyone

I FIGURE it's a universal truth - that learning of the death of someone else's child or children, even if unknown to us, will trigger feelings of grief, even if momentary, in all of us and no more so than in other parents.

And also that this swift sensation of anguish is almost always accompanied by a heightened sense of fear for your own child or children's lives - for their safety, for their future.

So it was yesterday morning I felt an especially sharp stab of pain when reading about the bodies of the two tiny brothers missing since Monday afternoon being found on the bank of Townsville's Ross River. The accompanying picture of the little tackers, taken by CCTV, as they walked along unknowingly on their way to what would be their death, brought with it prickling eyes and then warm tears. I'm fighting them back again now, thinking about it.

These feelings are always especially strong for me when there are little boys, but particularly brothers, involved and I'm sure the sole reason for this is because I have three sons who are as close together in ages as were Jhulio and Barak Eatts.

I remember the same acute grief learning of the death of two young brothers in a horrific car crash in a nearby suburb in 2006. Another brother was badly injured. A fourth was not in the car. My sons were around the same age and my oldest had not long got his licence and was driving his brothers around, like the oldest of the boys who died driving the car which also killed his 12-year-old brother. I was so affected by the accident that, over the following days, the compulsion to go to the scene of the crash became overwhelming and so I went, in tears, with flowers and a card in which I wrote awkwardly, apologetically, to the boys' parents, two shattered strangers, about my sorrow for their loss.

Barak, 5, and Jhulio, 3, were playing in their yard under the watchful eye of their mother before they went missing. Picture: supplied
Barak, 5, and Jhulio, 3, were playing in their yard under the watchful eye of their mother before they went missing. Picture: supplied

It was the same when Daniel Morcombe had been missing for several days and it was becoming clear something terrible must surely have happened to him. I'd felt a fist of fear tightening around my heart. Daniel was the same age as my middle son and a similarly gentle soul.

I remember, sometime much later, having to attend a press conference with the Morcombes and, given the opportunity to speak with Daniel's mother, Denise, found myself unable to ask the questions I'd prepared for the lump in my throat that I knew if I tried to clear would unleash an embarrassing (for both of us) torrent of emotion.

There have, of course, been many more times when I've felt the pain of other parents' loss and I know there will be many more. And, even now my sons are all adults off making their way in their world, I still fear for them - for their wellbeing, their safety.

I often think about what goes into being parent. But I had cause to focus on what it meant to me, at least, a few years ago when I wrote to my third son in the midst of a rift that it was becoming imperative we heal because of the birth of his first son, my first grandchild.

"Believe it or not," I wrote, "the birth and very early months turn out to be the easy bit. Because then comes learning to be a parent, usually from within a mental fog born of sleep deprivation. Learning to put yourself - always - second. Learning that your life as you knew it has gone. Learning you need to give up things you always thought were important to you."

The death of Daniel Morcombe was felt by parents around the country. Picture: supplied
The death of Daniel Morcombe was felt by parents around the country. Picture: supplied

"And so, over 20 or more years, you find yourself responsible for someone wholly dependent on you for everything from being kept safe and warm and fed (in a home that's as comfortable as possible), to learning to talk, to walk, to go to the toilet, to dress, to read, to ride a bike, to kick a footy, to sing in a choir, to be a good person, to love and be loved.

"You teach about sharing, being respectful and tolerant of others, understanding manners. Then there's starting school … changing school … finishing school … decisions about careers … and on and on and on. And all of it is accompanied by worry. Constant. Worry … And sometimes you think you're just going under. That it's all going to fall apart. That you just can't cope. But there's no running away from any of it. You are 100 per cent accountable for the wellbeing and upbringing of another person. It's such a big undertaking, such a huge and long and important thing, that it really can't be summed up in just a few words …"

I don't feel able to improve on that right now, though I'm sure others can offer more, different and better insights on this thing that is parenting.

All that said, it is a flat unarguable fact that I can have no real idea of the extent of the agony that parents who lose a child or children experience because I have not, myself, known it. And a part of me is uncomfortable, squirming, guilty, as I try to write this piece. But I think, really, all I seek is to send is a message from one loving parent to every other, but particularly today, the parents - the family - of two little brothers in Townsville, that we are as one - we are with you.

Margaret Wenham is a columnist for The Courier-Mail.