When Our Loved One is Missing

On the heels of the 16th anniversary of 9/11, I found this article which was written right after that terrible day. It speaks about the agony and complexity of a loss when a loved one is missing but there is no concrete evidence of the death. The loss is ambiguous. How does one mourn while also holding onto hope that the lost person might somehow return?

I will always remember those days after 9/11. I lived in NYC. The city was plastered with flyers created by families who were searching for that beloved friend or family member who did not come home. The grief in the city was overwhelming. Many of us rushed to donate blood right after the terror attacks, only to realize that there were relatively few injured survivors; most of those who did not manage to escape and run would not be coming home at all. The days of the search and rescue yielded a few survivors, but not many. Families waited and hoped.

Some of those 9/11 families have never received concrete confirmation of their loved one’s death as the body of their family member was never found. This type of loss is especially complex to mourn. In a similar vein, one can also think of those who have a family member who disappeared, such as a kidnapped child. How does one decide to have a memorial service (or not?) Can one ever feel any sense of closure if there is no body to lay to rest, or no certainly of the loved one’s fate?

Pauline Boss (author of the book Ambiguous Loss and expert on this topic) offers some helpful advice in the article, such as getting support, and allowing oneself to maintain hope of a reunion with the lost loved one while also trying to allow oneself (without guilt) to envision a future without the missing loved one. She also encourages a daily act, even a small one, in which one feels in control. This makes sense to me, as there is often a sense of helplessness when facing a loss which lacks certainty or concrete information.

Please feel free to post thoughts and comments below.



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