No one tells you that the emotions hit you at once, all balled up into one...I'm primarily angry all the time. Just thinking of him breaks me into tears as we were close . . . [G]oing to Jamaica to clean out this apartment was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in my entire life. Looking through his life in cardboard boxes is so tragic . . . It's been a year, and I need help letting the emotions go or just be able to stop crying in the middle of the day. I don't think my friends understand really, because until it actually happens to you, it’s not something you can relate to when you've lost someone in this manner. Now the tears are flowing but at least I don't have to talk. I've accepted that he's gone, I resent the fact that more can't be done to bring his killer(s) to justice. However, since it is out of my control, I have to let it go, I just need that help. I pray and pray but it is still hard. I'm grateful for any suggestions. Some help is better than no help.
My response: I'm so very sorry to learn of the disappearance of your brother, and I can only imagine how painful this must be for you and all the other members of your family.
Whatever the circumstances, because of the uncertainty involved, your experience is a most devastating kind of loss, in some ways even worse than a death. That's because you have no idea what really happened to your brother, whether he is living or dead, suffering or at peace, homeless and wandering in the streets, or living someplace else.
What you are dealing with is a form of complicated grief known as ambiguous loss, and the feelings associated with it are the same as if you had confirmation that your brother has died, such as sorrow, longing, denial, anger and guilt. But this grief is also complicated by your need to keep hope alive, which constantly interrupts or delays the mourning process and makes it far more difficult to resolve. It's like harboring a wound that cannot heal. As one expert in this field states, "With ambiguous loss, there is no closure; the challenge is to learn how to live with the ambiguity."
I encourage you to find a copy of a book by PaulineBoss, PhD entitled Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live withUnresolved Grief. If you click on the book title, you can read Amazon's description and reviews. (If you can't find the book at your local library, consider asking the librarian to order a copy for you.)
Here, Dr. Gloria Horsley of Open to Hope interviews Dr. Boss:
I also suggest that you to pay a visit to Dr. Boss's Web site, AmbiguousLoss.com. See especially Four Questions about Ambiguous Loss (How does it differ from ordinary loss? Why does it matter? How does one ease its effects? What are the types of ambiguous loss?)
Finally, because this type of loss is so difficult to resolve, I strongly encourage you to find a therapist who specializes in complicated grief. This is way too big to think you can manage it all by yourself. You need and deserve the support of an experienced professional, and I hope you will think of it as a gift you can give yourself.
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Related Articles and Resources:
- How to Deal with Grief When A Family Member Goes Missing
- Pauline Boss on The Myth of Closure via On Being with Krista Tippett
- Missing Persons Checklist (United States)
- Sharon Taylor: Father Loss via Open to Hope
- Help Find the Missing: Uncovering the Missing Pieces
- Missing Loved Ones: Helping Families Cope with the Uncertainty
- Battle Fatigue: The War for Peace by Todd Blumhorst
- Your Loved One Is Missing! What You Need to Know and What You Can Do (booklet)
- Ambiguous Grief: Grieving Someone Who Is Still Alive