4/25/07 Siblings of the Missing: Special Report, Part I
Project Jason agrees with the FFMPU that issues concerning siblings of missing persons have long languished behind the scenes, not unlike the siblings themselves. We hope the series will aid those who support the siblings to have a better understanding and response to their special needs. (bolded statements within the report are an emphasis added by me)
REPORT ON THE ROUNDTABLE MEETINGFOR SIBLINGS OF MISSING PEOPLE
30 APRIL 2005
A roundtable meeting of siblings of missing people was held on the 30 April 2005, hosted by the Families and Friends of Missing Persons Unit (FFMPU) InteragencyForum. Five siblings and one guest of a sibling attended the meeting. Of these, there was one man and five women,
ranging in age from 19 to 37 years. Siblings had been missing for a minimum of nine weeks to a maximum of almost 12 years.
Also in attendance at the roundtable were:
• Leonie Jacques and Sarah Wayland of the FFMPU in the NSW Attorney General’s Department;
• Alex Faraguna from the Mental Health Association NSW; and
• Ann Porcino of RPR Consulting who facilitated the meeting and is the author of this report.
The roundtable had the following objectives:
• to give siblings the opportunity to come together, to talk and to listen to each other’s experiences;
• to provide information to the FFMPU about the needs of siblings so that they can develop and tailor services to siblings in the future; and
• to inform services within the missing persons’ sector regarding the unique needs of siblings and the most appropriate forms of future intervention.
Whilst this report attempts to summarise some of the key findings from the roundtable, it cannot do justice to the wide-ranging, significant and at times emotional discussions that were held in this six hour meeting. The siblings who attended were generous in providing their time on a beautiful Saturday, open in retelling their experiences and thoughtful in listening to one another.
2. COMMON ISSUES FOR SIBLINGS OF MISSING PEOPLE
The first session of the meeting was an opportunity for each sibling to share aspects of his/her experiences with the group as a whole. The session started with each person ‘mapping the journey so far’ – the highs and lows, where they got help, where they didn’t, etc. – on a piece of
cardboard. People were then invited to share any aspect of what they had written or drawn with the rest of the group.
What emerged were moving stories of individuals and their struggles. Whilst each story was unique, there were significant common elements between the stories. The group talked about these common elements and agreed that their collective experiences could be useful
for others to understand, particularly those seeking to provide improved services to siblings of missing people.
The following were described.
DEPENDENCE OF PARENTS ON SIBLING(S)
A key issue and hardship for most people at the meeting was that their parents had, and in most cases continued to, relied heavily on them for support. People at the meeting explained how parents regularly and repeatedly sought solace from them and how they had to act as a counsellor, without any skills to do so, to help their parents cope and continue to function.
The impact on the sibling of this dependence is substantial. People described how they were unable to deal with their own complex array of emotions associated with the loss of their sibling; that they had to ‘keep it together’, so that their parents wouldn’t have to worry about them too. In a kind of role reversal, the siblings became protectors and confidants of their parents. Even when siblings were able to show their own emotions, parents often simply did not have any energy left to assist them and in the absence of any other supports, this left the sibling with limited outlets for themselves.
Siblings at the meeting described the sense of fatigue and despair associated with always being available to a parent, even many years after the sibling has gone missing.
STRUGGLING BETWEEN PARENTS DIFFERING NEEDS
A number of people at the meeting described how they felt torn by competing emotional responses from each of their parents. In all situations described, the mother was the more outwardly emotional and needy of support, with the desire to keep talking about the situation and the missing sibling. During the roundtable there was less discussion about the role of fathers and some suggestions that many remained quiet and withdrawn during the process or primarily focused on the practicalities of searching. There was also some concern about siblings noticing the deteriorating physical and mental health of fathers which was attributed to the stress of ‘not knowing’.
In these situations people described how they felt pulled between their parents, with an overt focus going to the mother whilst the father, usually not able to easily verbalise, was left on his own, potentially falling apart inside.
To be continued.....