Thursday, 26 June 2014

Facing the fear

What’s one of the most horrifying scenarios you can imagine happening in your family circle? If you are a parent I guarantee most will say ‘losing my child.’ Probably many of us have experienced temporary loss, in our own childhood or with our families – that heart-stopping moment when you turn around and he/she has vanished into the crowd, around the corner, through a door, over the hill. Then just as suddenly they reappear and everyone gives a collective sigh of relief; life returns to normal and the day goes on.

But for some of us that nightmare becomes our everyday reality, there is no sigh of relief. A moment in time years ago becomes the defining experience of our lives; it changes everything – who we are, how we function, what we do and even where we live. The collective ‘we’ are the families and loved ones of long-term missing people, those who have been gone for years but left behind siblings who have grown up and parents who have grown old just not knowing whether they are alive or dead. This is a shattering experience for however many days, weeks, months or years it may last – a huge emotional black hole that has colossal impact on all those left behind.

20TH May 1992 my son Quentin went missing from our family home in Auckland, New Zealand – that’s twenty two years ago today as I write these words. Even for me it’s hard to believe we have lived all these years not knowing his whereabouts but perpetually hoping one day for news or information that will unravel the mystery of his disappearance. I can remember clearly in the first week or so after he went, someone said (kindly) ‘It may take 3 or 4 weeks before we find him.’ I went to pieces when I heard this- how could I possibly survive this emotional tsunami for such a long time? If only their prediction had been right.

For me, the journey from 1992 was for many years a long, hard and often desperately lonely road in every way. Nothing prepares you for an experience like this, nobody expects it to happen in their family but it does and the after-shocks go on for evermore. Twenty years ago there was nothing and no-one to give help, advise or support. Once the police had done what they could and finished searching, we were left on our own to absorb the loss and find our own ways to carry on with life.

Nowadays, in the UK and elsewhere, there’s a much greater understanding of the complexities around ‘missing’, both for those that go and those left behind. Academic research has contributed much to this, not least with a new vocabulary that helps to give meaning and context to the emotional impact – words like ‘ambiguous loss’ and ‘living in limbo’ are so apt. The need for specialist counselling has also been recognised since ‘we’ don’t fit into any boxes of the more normal models of grief; we’re not bereaved by accidents, illness or violence. We are bereaved by unexplained and endless loss, living in two dimensions with a part of us frozen in the past and part living in perpetual hope that sometime in the future this loss might change.

When I meet others from the world of ‘missing’ it’s often me who has been on this journey the longest time. More than once it’s been said to me ‘I never wanted to meet someone like you because it makes me realise I too might have many years ahead of me waiting’ – or words to that effect. This I fully understand because I would never have wanted to meet me either!

Even after so long it’s still an evolving story and whilst nothing has actually changed and no light has been shed on Quentin’s disappearance, we feel the ripples going on in ever-widening circles. This in turn means there’s never a place of emotional peace in my mind when thinking of Quentin – which is every day. It’s a process of living with changing feelings, keeping the balance, finding ways to express feelings at different times as best I can.

Hanging onto hope is also a crucial factor. My first hope is of course that one day we will somehow be reconnected with Quentin but I know this would be nothing short of miraculous. My next hope is that some real and conclusive information will one day give answers to our many questions but of course the answers may not be what I want to hear and this is where I have to face my fears. In asking to know what has happened to my son I also have to ask if I’m ready to know? So it’s a test of finding the balance between being positive but realistic and accepting of all possible outcomes. Whatever the story behind Quentin’s disappearance all those years ago, surely nothing can be worse than living with the constant questions and the search for answers.

My personal realisation is that we can take on board great trauma and tragedy, it does change us and define us in new ways and life is different after than it was before. Hope does survive even the toughest challenges and with it all comes a wider, deeper understanding of the human spirit and your own capabilities.

By Sarah Godwin,
Family Representative for the charity Missing People

1 comment:

Someone is reported missing every 90 seconds in the UK. 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 text the charity Missing People for free on 116 000, 24/7 if you or anyone you know is affected by a disappearance.