The majority of missing people return fairly quickly, but around 1% do not. Their cases remain open for a year or more, some for much longer. Some may even have to wait a whole generation. Relatives must live with the uncertainty as it remains unclear what has happened to the missing relative. It becomes an obsession and a constant source of great anguish. Hope is naturally activated.
Hope becomes a two-edged sword, inspiring at times positive optimism and a desire to keep fighting, but if or when hopefulness becomes dashed, deep despair follows. It is this turmoil of contrasting emotions, endlessly oscillating between hope and despair, which renders this kind of grieving particularly stressful and prevents finding peace.
The psychological burden on the families is so great that specialist attention is required. The parents of the missing tend to completely neglect their own needs and those of the other members of the family; they focus all their energy and attention on searching for their missing children. Stopping the search is like abandoning their child forever or ‘killing them all over again.’
It is extremely difficult to alleviate the guilt and anxiety that stem from uncertainty, and to contend with the fear that missing loved ones will be forgotten forever, leaving no trace they ever existed. The obsessive questioning ‘Who will remember them when I am gone?’