Guilt. That pesky emotion that haunts and drives us all at some point. It’s there, in many forms, hovering around waiting for a chance to strike before going off to hide and plan it’s next attack. Somewhere, lingering, waiting, plotting to rear itself before you have a chance to stop it and tell it to go away for good.
It’s just a fact of existence sometimes. A little daily reminder of crisis. Not many want to talk of it, not many want to admit it is a part of them with these cases. I don’t know if everyone has it sitting on their shoulder whispering in their ear the way I do or not. I do know that I’ve brought it up with a few select people, usually while blushing because I know I sound daft while uttering it. Then I feel guilty for feeling guilty. It becomes a nice little paradox, a puzzle I’ve learned to put right and walk away from. I know I don’t need to feel this way. I do. I honestly understand that no one makes me feel it but me. No one has said “why you” or anything. It’s just my own brain playing wonky games with my subconcious.
At least for me, anyways, it is always there in various amounts, ready to pounce before I can brush it off like a piece of wayward lint. And this seems to be already one of those posts I’ll keep going back to in my head wondering if I forgot to say this, or include that, to make it more clear. Probably will want to edit over and over til it is nothing like the original. But for now, here’s what it is, today anyways. My thoughts on the guilt that comes from a missing case.
It started when she first went missing. Long before we knew for sure she had commited suicide, but still we had an idea that was the case. I felt this overwhelming guilt of first, that she felt she had to go missing and I couldn’t stop it. Then later, that we knew she was dead but didn’t know where her remains were. I was overwhelmed with this guilt that I had let my mother down. I felt like I had failed as her child. Why couldn’t she see I loved her, that I needed her, that her life mattered. Why couldn’t she see that she didn’t need to walk away from her life, and later take it. What was I doing wrong? What did I do wrong to make her leave like that.
This took many months to figure out. I honestly didn’t for over a year. In August at the Keys to Healing Retreat I realized that what I was feeling was silly. I did nothing wrong. I was not the cause of anything. That what happened was very selfish and had nothing really to do with me. I find it funny now that it took that long, and I find it sad that so many still feel that way. But its a conclusion you have to reach on your own. At some point everyone gets that “AHA” moment of clarity. It takes time. But one day, if you can allow it, it happens.
When we were still searching, still trying to make her not missing, the guilt was again there. Everyday, in my head, buzzing about like some incessant fly, never going away. Why hadn’t I found her. How could I not have found her. That was my job. I was doing all I could, but it always felt not enough. I had that guilt there telling me I wasn’t doing enough, I wasn’t good enough, I was failing all over again. As each month ticked by with no results, no solid leads, no headway in a good direction, I felt so guilty that I was doing it all wrong. Was I not talking to the right people? Was I letting other things get in my way? Why weren’t the search teams following through and coming to the areas I knew needed searched? Why hadn’t anyone called in to the police to say they had a clue. Was I not making people understand enough? Were they not getting that mom mattered even if she was in her late 50s (at the time) and poor? So what, she’s my mother and I need her. Why weren’t enough seeing that. Why weren’t the media doing MORE stories on her? Was the amount of press I had enough? Did I not do the interview right?
I second guessed myself every single day of every month she was missing. I kept feeling like a failure of a daughter. I felt guilty I was letting her down by not bringing her home safely. I couldn’t shake it. I had police, other agencies, family, friends, people in the community I never met, other families, in awe of how much I accomplished, telling me I had done more then they ever saw in a case like that in such a short time. I utilized things many didn’t even know existed. Yet I had no results. I was still a failure.
I look back and see how much that guilt drove me though. It wasn’t just a thing in my head telling me I was wrong, it was a force that pushed me to do more, see more, try new things. It kept me going, because I refused to let it swallow me up. The case was up to me. I had to be the one pushing the police, keeping in touch with everyone, emailing, calling, faxing new leads or information. If I didn’t do it, who would? I was her damn daughter, and I was gonna see this through. I saw it as a huge pit of guilt, but also as my last big act to show her I loved her. I had this thought that if I did enough, proved myself, she would come home on her own. Silly and childish to think, I now know, because that wasn’t something necassary. I had nothing to prove to her. She wasn’t “testing” me. She was ill, and in a different state of conciousness. Nothing I did was going to change her plans for herself. But deep in the back of my head, that’s what I thought I could do. I thought I could change the whole damn world for her. And in a way I did. Just not the way I wanted at the time. I just wanted to deny so much.
During the course of looking for mom I had said many times, over and over again, that I was to the point I didn’t care anymore. Whether alive or dead, I needed to know. I needed to find that answer and bring her home. She deserved to be home, either surrounded by family and people who would help her live, or to be buried respectfully along with her family and I would make it happen. I knew she had probably taken her own life, it was hard to deny when the way she went missing happened the way it did. But I could pretend that wasn’t the case. I could pretend she was all ok. How was I to know concretely one way or the other? I had no proof she was dead, so dammit I was gonna continue to search til there was proof either way.
Then mom’s body was recovered and I had infallable proof of what she had done. My worst nightmare was pushed in my face and I could not deny it. She had commited suicide, and I was never going to see her again. Never going to laugh with her, hear her voice, hug her… It was honestly the worst thing I ever expeirenced. I missed her so much it physically hurt. All I wanted was her home, isn’t that what I had said? Well I lied to myself. No one wants remains recovered. No one. They want a living, breathing person. That’s not what I got. I got remains, found hidden away, her last act to ensure she wasn’t found for so long.
I was just drowning in guilt. I hadn’t found her in time. I hadn’t “saved” her. It was all my fault, I thought. I did this. I wasn’t good enough. I thought, it couldn’t get worse then this. A recovery, while gave me a sense of resolution, didn’t give me the resolution I WANTED. Big difference. Now, 7 odd months later, I see that it was ok. Things happen as they should have. This is what was in store, she knew that, I didn’t. I could accept that. I could close the case knowing, honestly, that I did everything in my powers to find her. The searches that didn’t happen, the leads that didn’t pan out, those interviews I gave, the fliers I hung… I did it all. I did it all, well and with love for her.
It took a long time, and I know I’m still not fully there (and maybe never will be) to realize my guilt wasn’t needed. I did do it all. And as much as I felt that way for a while, it wasn’t my fault. Nothing I could have done, or said, would have stopped this. When someone is set on it, that’s it. They will, WILL, find a way. I could have prolonged the inevitable, but stopping it wasn’t a choice.
Once I got that in my head, the guilt I had for so long over everything seemed to pass. Sometimes, a reminder flares up and I have to put that fire out before it engulfs me. But that’s life. Especially after a suicide. Especially when that suicide was missing for over a year.
Then a funny thing happened. Our case was done, and so many I knew were still open. There was that guilt again. There I was thinking “why us, why not XX”. Why did WE have a resolution. Why did we get lucky and have her found so quickly (in the grand scheme of things it was quick). Why were we done when some had been looking for YEARS with no solid clue as to what had happened.
There I was feeling baselessly guilty again. Why were these amazing families who had done everything right, and then some, still looking and I wasn’t. I don’t know if other families get that guilt after their recovery and they watch so many anniversaries tick away for friends and others. But every time I see one of those posts, “11 years today”, “4 years today”, “30+ years today”… It pains me. Just tugs at my heart and it takes me a minute or two to come back to the moment. I just stare at those figures and want to scream and cry and say “I’m sorry!”.
I know I don’t need to apologize. I did nothing wrong. Every case is different, some home quicker then others. It’s life, it’s the fact of the matter with missing persons. Some are foul play, some aren’t. Some chose to go missing, others didn’t. Some there’s roadblocks put up with red tape, uncooperative agencies, evil people hiding what they did… There’s so many factors into a case that can hinder, halt, or help an investigation into a missing person. We were just lucky.
Pure luck. If it wasn’t for the oil company wanting to put new wells on to that property and needing to clear away the brush and brambles, she could still be there today. Well, honestly, SHE WOULD still be there. We know this, the police know this. There’s just things we’ve come to accept. We got lucky with that oil company. We got lucky we had the world’s most amazing detective. We got lucky the public gave half a damn about us. We got lucky other agencies poured their heart into our cause.
One of these days I won’t feel guilty anymore. I won’t be haunted by the what ifs and the why us. One of these days I’ll know its just how things were meant to be, sadly and bluntly. One day I will know that I shouldn’t feel guilty there was a recovery when others aren’t yet. It’s not my fault, it’s no ones fault. I did nothing wrong, and niether did anyone else. It’ll fall away, the way it usually does. I’ll shake my head and realize I’m being silly, and selfish. And I’ll pick right back up, and keep helping others, posting cases, finding resources, sharing their story, doing whatever is needed. Because that’s what you do, that’s why we are here. To help each other. Without that… Why waste all that luck we had.