Mercifully, most of us will never have to experience the devastating cocktail of emotions faced by those left behind when someone close disappears. As a society, we are not well equipped to conceive the impact that hits someone as they come to realise that someone they love is missing. It is as though missing is still missing from our social and cultural agenda. We are, I suspect, guilty of guarding against the unbearable.
There is a void in the support structures available to the friends and family who plunge into an abyss of unknowns as, unlike many other struggles and difficulties that we have been forced to acknowledge, all too often, missing itself gets lost from the political agenda, leaving the pain of those who live this nightmare, unseen and unheard.
Since joining the Services Team at Missing People a little over two years' ago, I have been thinking in some depth about supporting the individuals and families that the charity serves. I have learnt so much, but still feel as though I know only a very little. Mine is but a fragmented knowledge - I have been able to tentatively approach the issue, from an intellectual, analytical perspective and then withdraw, back into the safety of my life and the small but important network of certainties I seek to maintain within it. I claim no expertise. But I am proud to have been a part of the journey the organisation has been on, piloting a menu of emotional support in addition to and alongside their now very well established 24/7 helpline.
As a clinician, I can see very clearly the traps that might befall someone seeking to help those who have been left behind. This is trauma, but not, necessarily, as we know it. Resolution may, or may not, be possible. There are no standards when it comes to missing. The emotional journey defies logic. There are few parallels, and therefore slim chances of any real frame of reference. Some of those family members (the true experts) I've spoken to would contend that, unless you've been there, you're unlikely to be able to get there.
So, do you need to have shared an experience, in order to support someone who is struggling with it? I would dispute that you do, and know that I've received tremendous support from people who will, I hope, not come to walk many miles in my moccasins, but all had something of value to offer me. You needn't have trod the particular path to appreciate the incline. I guess it comes down to willingness to 'go there', and resilience to remain there with our clients, and truly bear witness to something we might experience as not just horrific, but unimaginably so.