Insight: Sept 12

This week Insight goes inside the lives of families living with ambiguous loss, when someone you love goes missing.

Australia has around 1,800 long-term missing people. For their families and loved ones, the ambiguity surrounding their fate can be a living nightmare.

‘Ambiguous loss’ differs from the grief experienced when a loved one dies because there is no verification of death, no body to mourn. It freezes the grieving process and prevents resolution. And it can get worse because you don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle to accept what’s happened.

We meet Cath and Jim McDougall whose daughter Chantelle and granddaughter Leela vanished 10 years ago. The young mum and her six year-old daughter were living with an internet cult leader and another disciple in Nannup, WA, when she told her parents they were all going to Brazil. They have not been seen since.

Families of missing persons can react differently. Sevak Simonian was 21 when he went missing three years ago after heading off on a bushwalk. An 18-day search found no trace of him. His dad Masiss says he can’t bear to go home because his son isn’t there. Mum Rosik doesn’t socialise any more. Older brother Sasoon dropped out of university, while youngest brother Areen believes Sevak is alive and will one day return.

For some, giving up hope feels like a betrayal. Stephenie Fielding’s brother Rigby was 53 when he went missing two years ago. He’d told his mum he was on his way home but never turned up. His brothers want to erect a memorial, but Stephenie doesn’t. She wants to keep looking for him.

Finding their loved one has brought fresh anguish for Sharron and Steve Rooney. After a seven year search, the remains of their son Owen were found at the base of a cliff in Canada, 3km from where he was last seen. The Rooney family is still digesting the heartbreaking news, and trying to transition from missing Owen to grieving for him.

Tonight at 8.30pm on SBS.

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