Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Avoiding the Void

Nineteen years – an eternity and a few short years; how can it be both?
On 20 May, 1992, my son Quentin (better known as Q) went ‘missing’. What’s the relevant definition of that word ‘missing’? In some countries they’re called ‘The Disappeared’, a more accurate description of how it feels perhaps but with overtones of politics and violence – something that happens in South America, Africa, Iran, but not culturally what you expect to happen to a white boy, age 18, walking out from his normal family home one afternoon and never to be seen again.
In the days, weeks, months and years that follow his disappearance, what happens to those left behind? At first there’s bewilderment, anguish, chaos and confusion. Feverish searching, shreds of possibilities, hopes pounced on and shattered, guilt, fear, doubts, hopelessness and helplessness. In fact almost every painful and passionate emotion is passing through the thoughts and feelings of family, friends, loved ones at any one time. And this goes on relentlessly, an emotional roller coaster without any true highs.
Daily life starts to reshape itself in the shadow of this disappearance; practicalities demand attention, we have to look after ourselves and each other again. The flurry of searching, the involvement and compassion of those around us slowly recedes. Anniversaries start to tick by – the first birthday, Christmases, the date he disappeared. Each one is different and has to be managed in its own way. At times it’s hard to accept this ‘normality’ because life isn’t normal any more; at the centre of everything, in the corner of every waking moment, is the knowledge and the pain of your child just not being there.
Where is he?
How is he?
Is he?
That last question is the hardest thought. But humans have survival instincts embedded in our genes so even at the times of greatest difficulty we find ways to hang on and keep functioning. Each person will find their own way and sometimes you lose it, wanting to numb the pain, escape the anguish, step off the endless circle of questions with no answers. Anywhere but here please.
Over the years since 1992, it has become a process of ‘managing’ my thoughts and feelings, knowing that to stay in the pain of it all is like living in a big black hole, without lightness or relief. I can’t stay there in that void anymore. I have learnt to gradually pull myself out of the emotional hole, accept the possibility of never seeing Q again, and accept the knowledge that I might never know the facts of his life or death. I have to honour his life whilst living with his and our loss.
There are not the right words to explain how this emotional journey has evolved; it’s been a long, slow and lonely task but after so many years I can usually keep painful emotions in a fairly secure part of me. I can now talk more freely about Q and our story and I can start to work with others in similar situations, although this interaction is both cathartic and difficult.
As a ‘technique’ for myself I have an image of the painful stuff being like a deep, dangerous ravine – to look over the edge into the blackness is to tempt vertigo and falling into those dark depths. I know I have limits so the skill is in gauging how near to the edge I can go without tipping over.
That’s what I have taught myself over the last 19 years. I am a long way from being an adept practitioner but at least I’ve got this far and I am thankful for that. But I would give anything not to have had to learn all this.
By Sarah Godwin
Mother of missing Quentin Godwin

Family Representative of Missing People
Sarah will give evidence at the UK’s first ever Parliamentary Inquiry into the rights of families of missing people on Monday June 13.


  1. When I read this I feel an overwhelming sense of sadness. Good luck for the parliamentary hearing on Monday...I hope that your experience can help others.

  2. My heart aches for you, Sarah.

  3. Such a sad and touching read. I really hope you get the answers you deserve one day. The website is doing a great job of preserving his memory.
    Take care, all my thoughts are with you.


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