real life

Dan O'Keeffe's sister writes for Mamamia: "For years we were worried sick, every waking moment."

After three girls, I can understand why Mum was thrilled to raise a boy. And Dan was the sweetest little boy, a gorgeous teenager, a remarkable young man – it was no wonder he was always so cherished.

He was kind, gentle, humble, generous. Dan was the kid that was already best mates with all the other holidaymakers’ kids at the motel pool before we’d even unpacked our fluoro visors. He was the teenager that joined Mum and Dad for a cuppa and bikky every night. He was the backpacker that always made sure he got his sister’s duty free makeup on the way home (and the exact shade of foundation too – amazing).

I told Dad he needed new boots the other week, to which he replied ‘Dan got me these’, with tears in his eyes. Dad had dropped a rock on his foot gardening six years ago and Dan had bought him a pair of steel-capped boots the very next day. That was just Dan.

Watch Loren’s appearance on The Project earlier this month below. Post continues after video…

Video via Channel 10

I went to a conference in New York last year, where I heard Dr Pauline Boss describe ambiguous loss as the most stressful type of grief. It was validating to learn that psychologists around the world acknowledged the torment my family had been enduring – our son and brother missing without a trace – was as excruciating as we knew it to be. For almost five years we were worried sick, every waking moment. Where was Dan? Was he okay? Can you imagine that panic and urgency, non-stop for 1712 days? I see friends lose their minds when they’ve misplaced their phone for a hot minute.

My sisters and I have watched Mum and Dad steadily disintegrate since the day Dan disappeared, and us girls aren’t unscathed either. Not knowing where our precious son and brother was for all that time… you wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

I don’t know what it’s like for a parent, but Mum once explained she felt as though her guts had been ripped out. My neurologist friend told me that the impact of that kind of prolonged stress is akin to the brain degeneration of long-term methamphetamine use. The physical, emotional, and financial damage is enormous too.

The O'Keeffe sisters with brother Dan and their grandmother at Christmas. (Image provided)

Another thing Dr Boss highlighted was the importance of making meaning when someone you love disappears.

100 Australians are reported missing every day, and while most are found within a short period of time, research shows that for every one person missing, at least 12 people are directly affected – in all of those ways. 

There was nowhere to turn when it happened to us. I knew we needed help, so I started the Dan Come Home campaign and just felt my way through. After a couple of years, I was getting phone calls and emails from other distressed sisters, mothers and friends asking for advice. Just like me, they were all desperate to find their loved one but had no idea where to start, and they needed help. I realised I’d somehow become an ‘expert’ in missing people – something so far from what I thought I’d be doing at 28 (joint ventures in Japan, for those playing at home), and that there was a giant gap that needed filling.


Everyone wants to feel they have purpose: it’s the ultimate goal in life. When I founded Missing Persons Advocacy Network (MPAN) in 2013, this was my meaning. Dan had given that to me.

Dan and Loren with their parents at Loren's graduation. (Image provided)

Now that I can no longer fantasise about the day he walks back through my door, I can at least ensure, for the sake of our beautiful parents, his memory lives on. MPAN is Dan’s legacy, and I couldn’t be more grateful. This organisation keeps him close to me, and this passion keeps me positive.

In the time you’ve taken to read this article, one Australian has been reported missing. Their mother feels like her guts have been ripped out and their sister is frantically thinking of ways to get the word out to as many people as possible.

MPAN creates awareness for missing persons and offers practical support to their loved ones left behind. We build relationships with the media, the corporate sector and through the people power harnessed by Dan Come Home, to alleviate some of that overwhelming stress.

Every man and his dog is fatigued by all the appeals for good causes, but this charity is the only one of its kind in Australia. Its continuation is critical.

It’s Dan’s birthday next week (May 31st), and this one will be harder than ever.

So I ask: if you have been at all moved by our family’s journey or seen a poster, shared a post, heard/watched/read an interview, please consider making a small donation so that I can keep this purpose alive. Givematcher are the zero-commission (i.e. awesome) fundraising platform we’re on here.

If by any chance you’re in the position to enter into a mutually beneficial corporate partnership (or sponsorship), please get in touch with me via the MPAN website. We may only be a small charity, but we have huge opportunities to offer a corporate. We’ve already launched the world-first Missing Persons Guide, which has been accessed by 15,000 people in situations like mine, as well as the award-winning Help Find Me campaign. We have a big role to play in changing how we, as a community, respond to missing people in the years ahead.

Being Dan’s big sister was my greatest honour, and I’d like to thank all of you for letting me share it with you.

For more information visit the Missing Persons Advocacy Network website or Facebook page. Alternatively, you can visit the Dan Come Home website and Facebook page.

If you or a loved one is suffering with depression, Mamamia urges you to contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Tags: wellbeing , current-affairs , family , men
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