Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Surfing through life

I was recently asked whether other families of missing people felt detached from their own lives, like they are watching themselves in some bizarre pantomime. 

I have thought about this lately and I know that I have felt this way for so long, that it has become the norm.  I do feel detached; like I am watching myself in some really poor B movie.  If I were to write a book nobody would believe it, or the road we have travelled this past almost 16 years.

I have often wondered “how do I cope?”, as that is the question that is most often asked.  I don’t know is the simple answer… I have to continue my life for various reasons, especially for my other children that were dependent on me at the time my son disappeared.  Also for financial reasons I have to keep going while living this other life, that is filled with total disbelief that this has actually happened to us.  My other children are now grown up, with their own families, but they are still dependent upon me and need me in their lives and in my grandchildren’s lives.  But how do I cope whilst, Damien is missing

The only way I can describe my life is that I ‘surf’ it.  I go through the motions every day, getting up and going to work.  I interact and even laugh with people around me.  I sometimes feel a little odd or guilty for seeming to be ‘normal’, when I know that I am far from normal anymore.  Co-workers are very concerned for me and genuinely feel sorrow for me and they do care.   I do have to pick my moments before speaking about Damien.  I have learned how to smile and interact even though the police have just told me that they are going to make arrests or dig up a garden and search a property for my son’s body.  Sometimes, if the subject comes up about Damien, I keep it short and sweet because I can see the squirm and wild eyed look on someone’s face as they struggle for the right words.  They are afraid of bringing up the subject because it might upset me.  They don’t realize that I am always upset and never stop thinking about him and it is such a relief when I can speak his name without people getting worried I might break down.  It is okay to ask and it is even better for me to be able to talk.

I have noticed that I am detached.  I feel as though I surf through my day without really ‘feeling it’.  It is like I skim along on the surface doing and saying all the right stuff but never really engaging myself thoroughly in any of it.  I say the right things and do the right things to function at some level.  But I am aware that I am not engaged on any level.  I don’t actually care much about all those daily aspects of my life that I have to perform.  The only mantra in the back of my head, all day, every day, every moment is me crying out “where is Damien, what happened to my son, where is he?”.  Over and over, that little voice is asking ‘why?’  But I can stop and smile and pass the time of day and do my job and do it well.  How do I cope?  I wish I could tell you, I just function and skim along and hope that one day I will hit land and some solid news that will make sense of this weird, odd life.  

Having this situation in your life is a huge emotional rollercoaster.  Your time is spent worrying, striving to find your child.  Then there is a financial cost and emotional toil, plus the effect on your family and friends and co-workers.  The loss and the grief and the constant distress are debilitating.  It is an uphill battle to make sure that he is not forgotten.  

Missing people has recently developed a Mindfulness Based Programme of counseling entitled ‘Living Better when Living in Limbo’, aimed at those left behind when someone disappears. Click the link for a summary.

By Valerie Nettles
Mother of missing Damien Nettles

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Missing in Europe: 116 000

There are some phone numbers we all remember. Who doesn’t know to ring 999 in the UK for emergency services? But here’s one you may not know. A number that just could save the life of a loved one: 116 000 is the new (2012) European wide number for missing agencies. Here in the UK it will put you through, free of charge, to the charity Missing People, who can help and advise you what to do next if someone you love is missing. Write it down, better still, commit it to memory. Teach it to your children as soon as they are old enough to understand – Missing People also run a confidential message home service, something a confused child or teenager might just find vital.

Why am I writing this? I am writing in the hope that what happened to my family, and many others I now know, will not happen to you. In 2007, my son Andrew went missing. He was just 14. To this day we have no idea why he left. We thought we had a happy, stable family – Andrew is proof that this can happen to anyone. For five years now we have searched, postered, leafleted, emailed, interviewed endlessly for TV, Radio, newspapers and magazines. His face has been on bin lorries, milk cartons, service station toilet doors, you name it. We have even sonar scanned the Thames for bodies and we have found nothing. No message, no confirmed sighting, no body, no son. Knowing that number 116 000 could mean the difference between losing a child and finding them.

Some practical advice - When Andrew went missing, we were so glad that we had recent photos, that we knew how tall and heavy he was, what he was wearing, the details in short that may help someone identify the missing person. I would suggest making a habit, perhaps every 3 months or so, of taking a clear photograph of your child, measuring their height and weighing them. Do they have any unique identifying features? Take a clear photo. Any medical condition or medication? Do they wear glasses or hearing aids? Better still, keep this information on your mobile phone, something you are likely to have with you wherever you go. If the worst happens and you find yourself calling 116 000, then you will have important details to hand for the police, press and charities as they seek to assist you.

I hope it will never happen to you, I really do. I hope what you end up with is a record of your child’s growth that you can look back on with happy memories. But should the worst happen, then having that information to hand could be vital. Of course such simple measures may not always prove successful in finding a missing child, but the first 48 hours of searching are the most crucial, so it is worth having.

A word of caution - Bearing in mind how the Portuguese police labelled the McCanns suspects/arguidos and my own experience, I would add a little advice for when dealing with the police. Given the distress and emotions you will be feeling if your child goes missing, it can be even more distressing when you are interviewed by the police. The first 48 hours are crucial and the police ask many probing questions to ensure that they have the full facts, even possibly to the extent of questioning whether one is in anyway responsible for one's own child going missing. This, in itself, can feel quite intimidating at a time when one is vulnerable and inevitably questioning oneself as to why one's child is missing.

I feel it is advisable to recommend that you have legal representation at such interviews to ensure that your own rights are not compromised, which, in turn, might lead to the investigation moving in the wrong direction and impede the search for your child. If this happens, the distress is compounded and can seriously affect one's health and entire life thereafter.

The distress of your child being missing is almost indescribable and the longer they are missing with no information forthcoming the more devasting it becomes. I hope it never happens to you. But there are over 100,000 children reported missing just in the UK each year. The vast majority, 99%, have happy outcomes within a few days or weeks. And that is another reason to know that new number – 116 000 – it really helps.

By Kevin Gosden, 
father of missing Andrew Gosden

Around 250,000 people go missing in the UK each year. The Missing Blog aims to give a voice to all those affected by this issue.

Written by families and friends of missing people, supporters working to raise awareness of the cause, and volunteers and staff at the charity Missing People, we hope that this blog will offer a window into the issue of missing.

The charity Missing People is a lifeline when someone disappears. To find out more about Missing People and ways that you can support the charity visit

Call or txt the charity Missing People for free on 116 000, 24/7 if you or anyone you know is affected by a disappearance.