4/26/07 Siblings of the Missing: Special Report, Part II
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 MEETING FOR SIBLINGS OF MISSING PEOPLE
30 APRIL 2005
SUPPORT PEOPLE FOCUS ON THE PARENTS
Siblings of missing people are often overlooked by friends and a service system focusing their care and support to parents. This was a common experience of everyone who attended the meeting. Even the friends of the sibling may focus on parents, asking regularly after the wellbeing of the parent, without understanding the grief and loss being experienced by the sibling.
Overall there is a complete underestimation of the importance of the relationship between siblings and of the pain that a brother or sister might feel when a sibling goes missing.
CONTINUAL GRIEF AND LOSS
Everyone present at the meeting described how the loss of their sibling became the ongoing focus of the families’ attentions, with little opportunity for the family unit to joyfully meet for life events. They described how every festive occasion is difficult, as people pretend to be happy, but were not; of the guilt that surfaces whenever anyone is having a good time; of the constant reminder of the missing sibling (‘If only s/he were here’).
Often families have failed to notice or are simply not able to freely celebrate the significant events of the sibling left behind – events such as graduations, marriage, pregnancy - without a reminder of the missing siblings. Siblings described how they have felt invisible and unimportant in the family which continues to focus on the loss of the sibling rather than on the significant life events of the people still connected to the family.
A common theme was of sibling guilt. Siblings feel guilty for many things: because they didn’t see the signs and take action to prevent their sibling leaving; because they haven’t been able to locate their sibling and bring him/her home; because they can’t make everything right for their parents; because they are rebuilding their own life and enjoying life again, and their sibling is still missing.
Every person at the meeting whose sibling had been missing for more then a short while described how they had eventually had to escape from the situation, to find the space and time to look after themselves and get some perspective on the situation. All went travelling – for periods of five weeks to years – and described this as a welcome reprieve; like pressing a ‘pause button’ on the intensity of the experience and the needs of parents.
Travel wasn’t problem-free however. A number described how it seemed to restimulate fears – their own or their parents – that something could happen to them too. The return after a period of travel was not very satisfactory either for most people – having changed themselves
(to varying degrees) but finding their parents and the situation exactly as they left them.
LEARNING TO LIVE AGAIN
Most of the roundtable participants had rebuilt their own lives to a greater or lesser extent, but all talked about how their sibling would always remain with them in some way. Sometimes, a renewed determination to live their own life to the fullest was not really about the sibling left behind; it was to honour the sibling that had gone missing. Real healing was evident where people had been able to have their own life again – a good and productive life – for themselves and not for anyone else.
To be continued......