Luke Christmas How do families with missing children  Luke & Alicia Xmas 97survive the festive season? How will the McCanns cope during their first Christmas without Madeleine. Their two-year-old gorgeous twins will no doubt be excited, and have even asked if Santa will bring for their sister back.

Incredibly, the McCanns have been overwhelmed with gifts from around the world for their missing daughter. They have described this as “the hardest Christmas imaginable” and plan a “very quiet, private Christmas with family”.

I imagine this is a time of year when families’ hopes soar that they will hear from missing loved ones who have inexplicably vanished from their lives. I asked Nicki Durbin to describe what it is like, how parents in her position cope. Her teenage son Luke has has not been seen since May 2006, aged 19. She sent me these two great photos which show Luke as a pensive 3-year-old and a fun loving guy celebrating his Christmas 10-years-ago with sister Alicia.

Thank you Nicki for sharing your very personal and sad thoughts with us. We all wish we could make your one Christmas wish come true, as well as for the McCanns and other distraught families with missing children. This is what Nicki said:

For six years, I have bought Luke clothes for Christmas, from a little surf shop in Ipswich. A couple of weeks ago I went in to see what I would buy for Luke if he was here. I looked, cried and left. As I drove back home, a terror gripped me. There may come a day when I don’t actually know what Luke may like anymore. There are many families out there whose children have been missing for a long time, who face that every Christmas.

This will be my family’s second Christmas without Luke. Will it be any easier than last year? No. Will it be any harder? I don’t know. What I do know is that the one percent “hope” will be back, that Luke may email, call someone or walk through the door. The come down after Christmas, being unable to contain my hope, will be as traumatic as every anniversary that has passed since Luke went missing.

Last Christmas if it had not of been for my beautiful daughter Alicia, who was 17 then, I don’t know how I would have survived. She was obviously old enough to be fully aware that Luke was missing and Christmas was as traumatic for her as it was for me. The guilt I felt for being in our home together and going through the motions of opening presents, not knowing whether Luke was dead or alive, was reflected in her eyes. When I began to cry, she had understanding of my grief and cried with me. I did not have to pretend about anything, she knew.

Along with many other families throughout the world, Kate and Gerry McCann will have the nightmare of going through their first Christmas with a missing child. For them, I would imagine, being able to be open with their grief will be more difficult than it was for me, as they have two other little children who will be very excited about Father Christmas visiting.

Is it easier getting through a day when you feel you are unable to break down? Is a day like that easier because you feel so exhausted containing your emotions? Maybe you are so shattered by “holding it together” that you have the deep sleep that does not come very often anymore. Or maybe from not being able to let your despair out, when your little ones finally go to sleep, you are unable to, as you have to have time to cry before sleep will come. Or is it easier to have an older child that has such a great understanding? The understanding being so comprehensive, you see pain etched on that child’s face and no matter what you do, you cannot take that pain away.

The pure and simple fact is nothing is “easier” when you are a parent who has a missing child. It does not matter whether your child is two or fifty two. They are loved as much at all ages. The pain and misery of just not knowing where or what has happened to your child never ceases. Parents of missing children do not have a day of respite, when they do not have the incessant, terrifying thoughts whirring through their minds of where their child is, whether they are dead or alive.

There are no right or wrong ways to be as a parent of a missing child. No right or wrong things we should or should not do at Christmas or birthdays or any other day of the year. None of us ever dreamed that our “normal” families would ever be subjected to this prior to the start of our living nightmares. We are all trying to survive in whatever way we can.

I wish all families a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. To families with a missing loved one, I wish you all to have your lost child home again. To find some semblance of peace over the festive period and I hope that 2008 brings closure one way or the other.

*You can support a march for Missing People which Nicki is helping to organise and lobby the government. It is being held on Wednesday, 12 March. Details are in this link.

In memory of those who are still missing.