Social media provides an instant platform for people wanting to respond to tragedy and trauma. No matter what type of loss we might be witnessing the same words tend to swirl round and around – we rally at the injustice of ‘bad’ happening to ‘good’ people, we tell each other to hold our babies tighter to remind ourselves to be grateful for what we have and we commonly fall prey to the word closure….closure for the losses we experience, closure for the packaging up of unimaginable traumas into a neat little box and, my personal favourite, closure as a way of signaling that people need to move on.
Watching the world of Facebook, Twitter and a plethora of sites respond to the news that a man had been arrested for the murder of Daniel Morcombe over the weekend it was clear to see that the community wanted to respond by declaring that closure may have been in sight for the family. As a society we don’t cope well with loss but responding to an ambiguous loss may be even more challenging for us to comprehend. The counselling world (and their love of labels…) use the term ‘ambiguous loss’ to define those losses where there is no finality or certainty that a loss has occurred, which is what happens when someone is missing. Images of missing people are part of our history; we grow up remembering the faces of those that are lost. We have our theories as to what has happened to them, we wonder about the grief, the lack of closure these families may be struggling with and then when we hear news that confirms the finality of their loss and we tend to fall quickly into the clichéd responses.
In my experience of supporting families the news of the location of a missing person does not create closure. It just creates another tragic layer within a complex web of loss that families have to contend with.
Each year in Australia about 35,000 reports are received by the police regarding a missing person and 1600 people remain missing long term. I’ve had the privilege of meeting and getting to know Bruce and Denise Morcombe along with many other families whose lives have been frozen by that moment in time when someone they love vanishes – some are the victim of a crime, some disappear after struggling to live with a mental illness, some choose to walk away and some just leave – we don’t know why. Of those 1600 people the publicity that surrounds certain cases varies. The photos that the families choose as their missing persons picture becomes symbolic and is emblazoned in our minds, inviting us to ‘know’ the person being searched for. The pictures are powerful reminders of who was lost and possibly who may be found.