Wednesday, July 29, 2009

When Your Missing Loved Ones Search Ends With Grief

When a missing person is found deceased

Sometimes the discovery of a missing loved one is not always favourable. Family members and friends may be notified by police that the missing person is deceased. This can give rise to a mixture of emotions.

There may be feelings of relief that the search is finally over. The anxiety has subsided and there is a sense of ‘knowing'. Family members and friends may feel that they are able to seek some resolution for they now have the opportunity toformally farewell their loved one.

At the same time there may be feelings of grief and loss that finally surface once your fears have been confirmed. Family members and friends now mourn the loss of their loved one with greater certainty. They are also saddened and disappointed that their search efforts did not end with a better discovery – one that would reunite them with their loved one.

Accompanying these feelings is often a sense of bewilderment and confusion. With the news that their loved one is deceased, family members and friends have a limited opportunity to learn about the circumstances that led up to the missing person's absence. Often they are left wondering about the possible answers to their many questions.

As mentioned in the preceding section, preoccupation with unanswered questions can continue to stifle daily living. The ability to concentrate and carry out responsibilities may be hindered.

When we live for long periods with an ambiguous loss some families begin to get used to not knowing, once a death has been confirmed that glimmer of hope that the person may be alive is extinguished. There are no further possibilities available to them.

Families may continue to seek assistance from their counsellor or they may wish to seek alternate support from bereavement services. There is no need to make quick decisions, do what you feel will be of greater support to you.

The Long Wait – When a missing person remains missing

Although the majority of missing persons are located , a number are not. Many family members and friends have waited years, and continue to wait, for news of their loved one. They go on with their daily lives while never losing sight of a possible reunion:

‘Each day when I wake up I don't think its another day that I haven't seen my daughter I think its another day closer to her coming home'

The journey travelled by these family members and friends often becomes more manageable in time. Yet, it is still a difficult path. Emotions can continue to fluctuate indefinitely, akin to a turbulent roller coaster ride. This is because the experience of loss remains uncertain and lacks clarity.

Although reported sightings of the missing person can bring hope to family members and friends, the reports can also “rekindle a grief that was beginning to heal” . This in turn can intensify the swing of the emotional pendulum, which swings between feelings of hope or contentment, and feelings of despair.

It is important to recognise that this is a normal part of the journey travelled by the family members and friends of missing persons. Unfortunately, though there is no quick solution – “people must find their own way out of the ambiguity” . However, with the support and guidance of an experienced counsellors and mental health service provider the emotional swings can become more manageable.

Someone is Missing - website and booklet that focuses on the emotional and mental health needs of families and friends of missing persons.

The Families and Friends of Missing Persons Unit provides a free and confidential counselling service. FFMPU believe that by reaching out for support the experience of having someone missing might become a little easier.

FFMPU is the only service of its kind in Australia that provides specialised therapeutic support to families and friends of missing people.

The counselling service responds to the ambiguous or unresolved loss that follows the disappearance of a loved one. This type of loss is not commonly experienced in the community and people often speak of a sense of isolation and confusion when faced with a loss that is can be temporary or permanent.

FFMPU uses the national counselling framework 'Supporting those who are left behind' when engaging with families and friends of missing people. The framework was developed following a Churchill Fellowship in 2006 that explored the international approach to unresolved loss. The framework is useful not only for service providers but for families and friends wanting to understand better the impact of 'missing' on their lives. The framework, published by the Australian Federal Police National Missing Persons Coordination Centre, can be downloaded here or a kit containing the framework and an instructional DVD can be ordered free of charge from

The more recently written report, Best Practice in Counselling Models Relevant to Families and Friends of Missing Persons, (Hunter Institute of Mental Health, 2001), provides an extensive overview of the relevant literature. It also outlines various counselling models and their suitability for use with missing persons-related support services. Eight recommendations are made, for the provision of more appropriate training for those providing support services, and for suitably trained counselors to be clearly accessible to their client base.

The focus of the current report is on the various support needs expressed by relatives and friends of missing persons and how these needs can most satisfactorily be met.

You may download a copy of the full report in Word format (307 KB): Support Needs of Family and Friends of Long Term Missing Persons

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