In March of 2011 I went to my first big missing persons event - the annual CUE conference in North Carolina. While there I had the amazing blessing of meeting Elisa. Thanks to the joys of FB, as so many times, we have been able to keep in touch, meeting again at this years conference. Whether its a laugh, a cry, a dumb joke, I know I can count on her as so many others already do, as a friend, CUE volunteer, and the mother of missing son, who has sadly been through it all, knows, cares. Sometimes it takes something horrible to bring the right people into your life. While I will always hate the reason we’ve met, I’m so glad we have.
I’ve asked her a few times since this project started to contribute, and I was so happy when she finally agreed.
So there I was sitting at my computer, at 11pm yesterday. Listening to music while checking messages. Leonard Cohen’s Halleljuah began playing as I opened Elisa’s email- how perfectly fitting as the background music for the moment. As I read what she wrote, with Cohen’s smokey voice ringing out, putting myself in her place, I was at a loss of how to explain it. Touching, honest, beautiful.
Today her son’s, Matthew, remains were located 6 years ago today, after having been missing for 6 months.
Mathew Craig Stirling’s remains were located on May 10, 2006. He had been missing for just over six long months.
Has it really been six years?
Time flies by and manages to stand still all at the same time. It was the Wednesday before Mother’s Day. I had just gotten through my birthday and was looking even less forward to this holiday. I was busy at work, running behind as usual, just finishing up a patient and hurrying to get the next one from the waiting room when Rosanne, my supervisor at the time, came to get me. I remember trying to put her off….Can’t it wait? What is so important? Can I just be in trouble later? As she walked me toward the back door of the facility I remember her whispering how sorry she was. Then the door opened and Sandi, Matt’s Aunt, was standing there.
And it clicked.
The rush of questions in my brain. Where? When? How? What do I do now? I was to leave my car at work. She had come to take me home. I rushed back in to collect my things, not knowing when I would return, trying desperately to hold it together. Saying I was ok, that I knew this day was coming… But inside I was thinking.. Why aren’t I relieved? It’s finally over. Why am I so shocked? How could I not be prepared for this day?
Maybe you can never be…
Samantha, my daughter, and I discussed it that night. You get comfortable somehow in the life you are leading. You have learned how to do it. Life’s purpose had become a need to find my son. Organizing searches, hanging flyers, keeping in contact with the detectives. We were in the process of securing a billboard, Sam was working on the website, we had a boat with sonar secured to search the canal, I was hosting a road to remember rally stop. We had settled, after six months, into a place that we thought we were going to be in for the long haul. Gone were the days when I expected him found immediately. Gone were the feelings that I can’t possible endure another night without knowing where my child was. We, both of us, honestly felt it was going to be years. Someone fishing the canal. And then this…and then you suddenly realize that it doesn’t matter that you knew this was going to be the outcome.
As we are leaving my job I begin to grasp the details. Apparently, it had been hours since the first phone call. Joseph, my brother, was already at the scene of Matt’s recovery, and Sandi had driven up to get me and had been waiting in the parking lot for I don’t know how long. My work had even been notified earlier in the day. The police department was sending a victim’s advocate to inform me, and they (the police), put everything (me), on hold until that person arrived at my location. Then the radio and television started reporting about the recovery efforts going on at the Griffin Canal and my family decided that they had to tell me before I found out another way.
First of all – the advocate never showed. Not at my work or at my home. Not that I was surprised. Secondly, a victim’s advocate? Really? Who knew that such a position existed. The police were insisting I needed this person today? For what reason, exactly? He’s been found. Mathew had been missing over six months…maybe I could have used those services during that time. I am very thankful I didn’t have to meet that person. I would have been nice and polite, while my insides screamed at me to speak my mind. It made me so angry. I told my family I would have spit on her. Makes me smile every time I think about that, I’ve never spit on anyone and am confident I never will. And I know I wouldn’t have spit on her either. But, he was my child and I should have been notified immediately, yet I was allowed to continue working while the word of his recovery made its way through the grapevine. But I had to put all that aside as I was being driven home. I had to locate and inform my daughter who was also blissfully unaware and still working.
As my home filled with family and friends and the phone continually rang, the media began bombarding us with requests for an interview. I think not…I had nothing to say. Matt was found, he was dead. Interview me now, why? I had been clamoring for coverage for six months. I did not mind allowing them to use me when he was missing, but I no longer needed them. I’ve never understood why grieving families allow themselves to be manipulated like that.
I watched the footage of Matt’s truck being lifted out of the canal, over and over again that night. All the channels, all the angles, trying to figure out exactly where they found him. Which part of the canal?
I had searched that canal so many times. I knew it so well. How could I not have found him?
I had divers, boats, helicopters, search teams and dogs. I had spent the entire six months telling everyone and anyone that he was in that body of water. It came to me in the car as I was driving down to report him missing. I stopped to pick up my mother and it was the first words out of my mouth. I know where he is…
He had an accident, his truck went into the Griffin Canal.
How could it take six months to find him when I knew the entire time where he was? Annoys me still.
In a way it was so surreal. Two and a half years before we were doing the same thing as a family, albeit, in a different home and with Mathew. That time it was my husband who had died. My family gathering together, awaiting word from the scene of a horrific event. Waiting for Joseph to return from the place of the death of an immediate family member. The hours passing, more people arriving. Waiting, waiting. Both times it was late when he finally walked through the door. Both times I watched him stop time and again, hugging this one, comforting that one. Waiting for my turn. Waiting for him, my brother, to look at me and tell me.. my husband then, and now my son, would never be returning home again.