Missing

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It is already mid May. Yet for some people, April never left. It was a month most of us were bewildered by missing passengers. Of a plane that disappeared. And a ferry that sank. The plane went missing in early March. The search is still on. Reportedly the most expensive ever. Conspiracy theories abound. The plane, after over 2 months, stays resolutely missing. The ferry sank in April. Suicide, arrests, resignations ensued. Divers continue their search for the unaccounted. Answers, to pressing questions, remain elusively missing. When April did leave, some things are changed forever. The world has lost some innocence. How should we see air travel? How could a plane vanish into thin air? No aviation expert can explain it. How should we see sea travel? When we heard the captain and some crew abandoned ship, we were saddened. When we knew this ship was unfit to sail, that it was overloaded, our faith was shaken.

When May came, we were left with a gaping void. But what about those who are closely involved? The relatives and loved ones of the missing plane and sunken ferry. To lose someone dear to unknown circumstances. We can only try to imagine how they are dealing with their loss. Physically, emotionally, psychologically and financially. This is what psychologists call enduring trauma associated with unresolved loss of loved ones. It was an all too sudden encounter that was followed by endless waiting. For most of them, their lives are put on hold. Their cannot think or feel anything intermediate or longer term, just the immediate. They are in severe shock. Some are still in denial that what happened has happened to them. Others are in disbelief. This is a mishap they are not conditioned to comprehend, they are not trained to react, and they are not equipped to handle mentally. For almost all of them, time has stopped. Frozen. In April.

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‘Missing’ is rarely an expected event which the wider community experiences. It is a situational crisis that is unanticipated. A family’s sense of the world shifts so significantly that it is difficult for them to focus on anything other than the disappearance and investigation. There are no longer certainties and absolutes. There is an overwhelming and helpless sense of dealing with ‘not knowing’. Coping with this ‘not knowing’, not able to see an outcome, for some, the effect is momentary, for most, it is a lifetime. The crippling frustration of ambiguity and uncertainty some experience make them feel ‘being left behind’ by the missing. It is always harder to be the one left behind. The impact on their lives cannot be fully understood by others. With this ‘ambiguous loss’, there is anguish, distress, confusion, anger and guilt. After a while, the waiting debilitates, the slow unfolding of the crisis kills their spirits.

They say ‘It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more’. Ultimately the most punishing pain is from farewells that are unspoken. When a separation is forced upon people, yet when it is left open-ended, the hearts of loved ones are, pun not intended, left hanging in mid-air. Most of them will conduct their own investigations. They will follow every lead. In this time and age, social media and the tabloids have ways of compounding this problem. All of them will yearn for evidence of life, and later for evidence of death. All of them will feel the pressure from society to find closure. They will feel judged that they cannot put it down and move on. A loved one said, “But how can he be in a plane that vanished without a trace? This is worse than being involved in 911.” A mother of a school boy wept,”It took over two hours for the ferry to sink. I kept playing and replaying in my mind how he tried to survive.” ‘Missing’ can happen to the rich or poor, young or old. We can only pray that those in despair do not lose hope.

‘Sometimes, only one person is missing, and the whole world seems depopulated. Because the most painful goodbyes are the ones that are never said and never explained.’

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