The pain and grief of having someone you know go missing are among the most profound and anxiety-inducing experiences anyone can go through. Grieving over a missing loved one is one instance where time doesn't make any difference in your grief journey. There isn't any automatic healing or progression through grief when you're suspended in the unknown.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Tips for Coping With a Missing Loved One
- Tips for Grieving a Missing Person After They Died
- Tips for Helping Someone Cope With or Grieve a Missing Person
When a person goes missing, and there's no resolution or closure, you start to experience the signs and symptoms of loss even when there’s no confirmation of any specific outcome.
Having a person you love go missing makes it more challenging to move on with your life. It’s difficult because you're still holding on to hope that your loved one will return or that you'll eventually learn what happened to them and why they went missing.
This type of loss can have a much more profound emotional effect on those left behind. Having a missing loved one can shape your overall life experience, emotional wellbeing, and even your finances.
Tips for Coping With a Missing Loved One
Most missing persons are found or return rather quickly. Unfortunately, there is a small percentage that don't ever come home, their loved ones must learn to cope and live with the uncertainty.
Having to live with not knowing what happened can be devastating to the friends and family left behind. You may experience many of the stages of guilt associated with loss. For many, it's not unusual to experience denial, anger, and shame.
There's a significant emotional impact that often accompanies a loved one who’s missing. Families may find themselves living between having hope and hopelessness. The ambiguity of a loved one gone missing can immobilize you with the confusion that follows. Having a loved one go missing is a unique type of loss that leaves many without any closure.
When a person is missing for a prolonged period, we call the subsequent emotional process an “ambiguous loss” because of the lack of a resolution or closure to enable a person to move on. This loss is further intensified by families holding on to the hope of a happy reunion with their loved ones. Or simply learning what happened and why the person went missing in the first place.
The following tips aim at helping you cope with this type of loss and answer some of the questions about grief you may have.
1. Seek support from friends and family
You can enlist the help and support of your friends and family by asking them to do specific tasks that help you get closer to finding out what's happened. Sometimes there isn't much more that they can do other than help you distribute flyers, get the word out about your missing loved one, and keep others updated through social media.
The more they can take off your plate, the better it is for you so that you can free up some of your time to do other things to help you get further along with your search.
2. Look out for yourself
Keeping yourself together both physically and emotionally after your loved one's gone missing is exceptionally challenging for many. Get motivated to maintain your overall well-being even during times of your most profound grief. You'll need to look after yourself or ask someone to help you do so.
Avoid isolating yourself from your peers, friends, and family as it can lead you to depression and other more severe issues. Check out your community grief resources available to those whose loved ones have gone missing.
3. Find a way to release your grief
Holding in your emotional pain and suffering for the sake of holding it together for others can be very damaging to your emotional wellbeing. However, denying the expression of your grief can be highly damaging to your emotional and physical health.
Consider setting some time aside each day for grief and loss activities to help you get by. Taking the time to focus on your grief and work on your healing doesn't signal that you've lost hope or that you don't believe that your loved one will be found or returned to you.
4. Take a break from the news
Repeated exposure to negative news and the constant bombardment of news reports concerning your loved ones missing person coverage can have a detrimental effect on your mental health. Try and limit the amount of news coverage you take in daily.
To make you feel better and not as if you're missing out on any breaking news or discoveries, ask a loved one to take over updates from the news for a few hours each day. You'll need this time to regroup and recover and to give yourself a break from the constant feeding of bad news about your loved one gone missing.
5. Never lose hope
Giving yourself a break from the news media and from all of the emotion that ensues during the search for a missing person doesn't mean that you've given up hope. Keeping hope and faith alive is a vital aspect of healing through this type of grief. Check out grief resources such as online grief support groups or other community resources to help cope with the events around you.
Remember that you can grieve while having hope. One is not exclusive to the other. Hope is a crucial factor in finding meaning in this experience. When you find hope inside your grief, you'll learn that there are ways that your suffering can give back to you and others. By acting on your grief, you may discover peace and a purpose to help you keep moving forward.
Tips for Grieving a Missing Person After They Died
Accepting that your loved one has died after missing can make you feel like you've abandoned them or that it's somehow disloyal to them. The news of their death can be both heartbreaking and profoundly maddening after so much effort has been made to find your loved one and have them returned.
You may expect to feel unbearable pain and suffering after learning of their death. Remember that you're not alone, and that you can get through this. The tips below may help you as you grieve your loss.
6. Don’t blame yourself
Blaming yourself for the death of your loved one after they'd gone missing is a natural grief reaction following this type of loss. Grief and guilt play against you when you're trying to consolidate what's happened in what's known as survivor's guilt.
It can make you feel profound pain, making you question everything you could've done differently to garner a different outcome. Try not to fall into its trap, as it can be very challenging to escape from.
7. Share your story with others
Share with others your story of what you’re going through. You help your healing process move forward when you talk to others about your loved one who died after being missing.
It may help you to join an online grief support group made up of others who’ve experienced a similar type of loss. Together you can help one another out by comforting and supporting each other.
8. Seek peace and solitude
Whenever possible, seek out some time for yourself to be alone in your thoughts and grief. You'll need an escape from the circus that ensues after a person's gone missing.
Your mental health will be significantly affected by all of the information coming at you, the police reports filed, and the media attention that usually accompanies the filing of a missing person's report.
Tips for Helping Someone Cope With or Grieve a Missing Person
Not knowing what's come of your loved one who's gone missing is a highly heart-wrenching experience. You can expect that your loved one's perhaps going through a period of shock and disbelief. One moment a family's loved one is there, and the next, they're not just like that.
There's no way to prepare for when your loved one goes missing. The following tips can help someone cope with their grief after getting this type of news.
9. Lend your support
Sometimes showing up and being there for someone who's trying to cope with when their loved one's gone missing is all that you can do. Showing up is the first step in showing your support. When a person's reported missing, it's essential to keep hope alive while figuring out what's happened.
Be mindful of the things that you say, as your words can have a lasting impact. If you don't know what to say, offer a hug and some simple words of condolences such as, "I'm sorry this has happened. I'm here to help you find them."
10. Help keep the search going
Keeping up a search for a missing person day after day can be exhausting. Consider volunteering to take over some aspects of the investigation.
You may even help coordinate a search party or encourage those who've already volunteered to keep vigilant in their search. Even though the missing person's family wants to do everything possible to help, they must get respite moments to rest and recover.
11. Offer to stay by the phone
Volunteer to be the spokesperson and field any media calls.
You can suggest either staying over at your loved one's house to be there to answer the phone, answer the doorbell common, and speak with the media and police officers when they stop by to get or give updates. You can act as a buffer between you and your loved one until they're ready to face the world once again.
Coping With Grief When a Loved One is Missing
Every day someone goes missing. Whether they're young or old, the pain of your loved one missing without a trace is heart-wrenching. Until this happens to you or someone you know, you never know how you'll feel and react. Because of the uncertainty of the situation, this is the most devastating type of loss.
Grief is complicated by the need to keep hope alive. The challenge then becomes learning to live with the ambiguity of what's happened when there's no closure.