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Grief when a loved one vanishes

February 24, 2011
Maui Weekly

There is, however, a unique reality that many of us face that is lesser known. This is when a loved one disappears and is presumed dead—but no one knows for sure. We are more familiar with this when military personnel are missing in action. However, a shocking reality is the 2,300 Americans are reported missing every day. This equates to 900,000 missing people a year.

This topic hits close to home for many of us on Maui, as reports circulate about 16-year-old Sage Barron, who has been missing since Jan. 8, and as we approach the year anniversary of Maui’s own Laura Vogel, who disappeared while camping in Pauwela.

This topic is near and dear to my heart, as my own brother and sister-in-law disappeared at sea in January 1984 while sailing from Australia to New Zealand. I was living on Kaua‘i at the time and remember scanning Hanalei Bay as the Transpac boats came in, wishing to magically discover that they had merely redirected their trip. Every day I looked out at the boats waiting to see theirs. This month marks the 27th anniversary of their disappearance.

When loved ones disappears, it is a completely different situation. No one knows what to do. No one knows if they are missing, hurt and need help, mad and hiding, dead, or if they simply changed their plans and will show up in a matter of time. Consequently, it is easy to stay in the denial, anger, bargaining and depression stages of grief for an inordinately long period of time. How do you move on to acceptance when you don’t know what you are accepting? How do you know when there is something more you could be or should be doing? How long do you hold on to hope? When you don’t know for sure what has happened, there is a heightened sense of fear that looms large. The “what ifs’ are endless. The anger looms larger than life as well, with the sense that “enough” can never, ever be done to find the missing people.

One of the challenges for loved ones and police (or other authorities) is the conflict between time being of the essence if someone needs help, available resources and the right to privacy and a change of plans. According to a booklet compiled by the Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains Taskforce, “There is no crime against being missing and if a person is voluntarily missing, they are entitled to their privacy.” (I suspect this is not true for a minor, however!) Consequently, the authorities need evidence and 24 hours of “missing” before searching.

The taskforce encourages you to be prepared to provide additional information: Have they failed to perform an important task or show up to work/school? Do they suffer from any mental impairment? Do they have a history of being “missing?” Are they having relationship or financial problems, or are they grieving loss? Have they been depressed? Are their personal belongings missing? Are personal belongings such as their car and/or wallet missing? Did they drain their bank account? This gathering of information takes time when one hour can make the difference between whether one lives or dies (never mind 24).

While it is my hope that you never have to endure the loss of a missing loved one, a little preparation—and a lot of prayer—may come in handy when you least expect to need it.

Love tip of the Week:

Tell the people you love that you love them—now.



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