Ripples of emotion.

Sarah Godwin, Kate McCann and Nicki Durbin

In some strange twist of fate I emailed Sarah earlier in the year for a piece I was writing for a magazine but the email got lost in cyberspace only for her to find my blog, comment on it and for me to realise it was the same Sarah.

Sarah is currently working for Missing People UK, a long distance from the place where ‘missing’ happened to her. This is my last interview for the week – thanks for those who have shared, commented, tweeted and emailed. I have one last post scheduled for tomorrow and then Ill be returning to my usual random ramblings about my little space in the world (I might also have a little snooze in between)

Sit back and have a read…

Sarah, can you tell me about your son Quentin?

Quentin is my second child out of four, my only son. He was born in England but we moved to New Zealand when he was 2 so he grew up there in a large family – 3 sisters, a step-sister and brother who was also his best friend from the age of 3.

As a baby, Q was beautiful, chubby, placid, golden curly hair. As a young school boy he was the one who always got into trouble, even if his friends were doing the same naughty things!

As a teenager he was a mixed bag, with a love of nature, gardening, bee keeping, an ability to meet and talk with people of all ages – he came across as a very loveable boy. But he was also conscious of fitting in with his peer group and anxious to be ‘one of the lads’, often causing conflict with his softer, caring side. West Auckland is not an easy place for a boy to become a young man. The early teens were a testing time as his peer group changed in secondary school, some of the influences not what a parent would choose for their child but you had to let them learn to find their own way and understand the need for self-discipline. Perhaps we gave Q too much freedom, perhaps he would have chosen the harder path anyway, but in his mid-teens he certainly gave us anxious moments and our learning curve both separately and together had some steep rises.

Q was able to talk about his problems and shared a lot of his troubling times with me, but when he was 17 he became ill with manic depression/bi-polar disorder and although he stayed home throughout his manic episode, it shook his confidence very badly and he lost his way in the world. The depression that followed 2 years later was well-hidden but obviously there was a lot of soul-searching going on in his mind and these worries were the main reason we believe he felt he should just take himself away from the family and not ‘burden’ us anymore.

What was your experience of support for families of missing people in NZ?

The NZ police became involved from Day 1 and worked hard to try and find evidence of Q’s whereabouts. Eventually after some weeks we had our own liaison policeman who was absolutely great, he tried everything to get a result; today I still have a very good contact at West Auckland police. Apart from this there was nothing in the way of support – no charity, no organisation specialising in missing people and no counsellors with experience of this particular trauma. It was a very hard, very lonely and isolating experience. With his siblings, there was no advice on how to help them through their loss – we all had to find our own ways together and separately.

You moved back to the UK a few years after Q went missing – did that space give you a chance to reconnect with you, Sarah, rather than being Q’s mother?

Moving back to England after 20 years away was my best shot at survival. Emotionally I was blasted by losing my son and a difficult divorce which split the family and sent us all off in different directions. It took me a very long time – about 10 years – to really come to terms with everything. Yes I could reconnect with Sarah but she was a bit wild and traumatised so not an easy person to live with!

Q was always there, once a mother always a mother. I went through a period of not talking about him – a sort of denial but only because it was too painful to be explaining the whereabouts (known or not known) of my son to new people I was meeting.


Tell me about your work with Missing People UK. What does your involvement give you?

I contacted the charity Missing People in 2009 after reading their excellent report  “Living in Limbo which said so clearly what I had been feeling and experiencing all those years on my own. I soon became involved as a volunteer representative in their new campaign Missing Rights, to encourage improvements in law, policy and practice that will benefit both missing people and those they leave behind. One of my first big assignments was to speak at a Parliamentary Inquiry in June 2011 about the emotional impact of our situation, alongside Kate McCann and another mother Nicki Durbin.

This 3 day Inquiry was successful and has contributed to significant changes in Government and Police policies. This in itself is very satisfying but for me personally, the highlight of that day was meeting two mothers in the same situation as me – my first experience of being with others who knew exactly what I was feeling without words. It was very powerful for me and ample reward for my time and emotional energy.

I have now become involved with fundraising as a member of the Trustee Development Board and I am part of a group piloting new ways to give counselling support to the families of the missing.

Through my contact at Missing People I have gained insight into the wider issues and I really appreciate knowing that there are so many people working in this charity who care deeply about the missing and their families – they are a very dedicated and wonderful bunch of people. But most of all, it has given me opportunities to do something, to be involved, to be with people who care as much as I do, to be in contact with families who are also without a loved one.

I think one of the hardest things to accept in my situation is the absolute loss of control, not being able to do anything to change the situation, wracking my brain to find new ways of searching – after 20 years there  little left but hope. Working with Missing People has changed that, it has strengthened me emotionally, taken away the feelings of isolation and given a purpose to my efforts beyond our own family situation.

What does a week focusing on Missing People mean to you – what do you think the community needs to understand?

A week highlighting the issues of missing people nationally is undoubtedly beneficial; it may bring publicity to particular cases, with the chance of new information. On a wider approach it gives an opportunity for people who might not normally ever confront this particular experience to understand the complexity of issues around ‘missing’. Not just the enormous emotional ripples that extend through families, friends, work places but also the practicalities of varied legal and financial implications which can cause further devastation to those involved. The telling of case stories is also important to make people aware that those who go missing can be from any background, any home situation – there is perhaps a willingness to point the finger and say ‘That would never happen in my family’ but it can and it does!

A further big result from such a focus is getting the information out to a wide audience what support is available for both the missing – they can re-connect via a confidential phone line – and their loved ones. It’s happening too often that people in these troubling emotional situations don’t know where to turn for support and no one signposts them to the appropriate support networks.



Thank you Sarah. Having run the only support service (in NSW) for families of missing people and knowing that there is nothing anywhere else makes these words resonate even deeper. I spent a week at Missing People UK in 2006 and I was so excited to see rooms full of people all working on the same issue – having come from a tiny office with no colleagues it was hard to get on that plane and come home.

Thanks for your inspiring words Sarah. Hopefully we can bridge the gap in Australia some time soon.


Impostors in the world of missing?

Faye and Mark’s sons image has been splashed across the media for the last few years. That’s how I met them, they receive support from an old colleague of mine who has a passionate desire to right wrongs and to force conversations where conversations need to be had.

Mark agreed to have a chat with me about sitting on the outside of the missing persons sector and what it means to be searching when they know they are not expecting their son to come home. Here both Mark and Faye share their story.

*the information contained in this story, and the names used have been previously published by other media outlets.


Matt’s been missing for 5 years….can you tell me about the circumstances of his disappearance?

Our youngest son Jason was home ill from school on Tuesday the 25th of September 2007, Faye rang him to see if he was OK around lunchtime. Jason let her know that Matt’s work had called twice that morning to try to find him as he hadn’t fronted for work. Matt’s working week was Tuesday to Saturday so this essentially was his first day back after the weekend. Matt did not live with us at this stage, he was living with his partner Michael Peter Atkins at Cronulla. Matt was 20 and Atkins 44. We were not happy with this age difference but for the sake of Matt, we accepted him.

After Jason’s phone call we started contacting Matt’s friends and tried to contact Atkins. They started getting back to us that no one had seen Matt and finally Atkins called back to say that when he woke up in the morning Matt was gone (he subsequently changed this from waking up in the morning to lunch , then late afternoon). He said he also had been looking for him. Later in the evening Mark insisted Atkins come to the Police Station with he and Faye to report Matt as a missing person. Atkins reluctantly attended and a report was made to police. On the Thursday Matt’s car was located at Waratah Oval at Sutherland. In the boot was a Bunnings receipts with Atkins fingerprint on it. Police went to Bunnings and obtained CCTV footage of Atkins there around midday on the Sunday purchasing a mattock and cloth tape. Matt was last seen on CCTV footage leaving ARQ nightclub with Atkins around 3am on the Sunday morning . On Friday the local police involved the homicide squad and on Saturday homicide detectives formally informed us that they were convinced Matt had met with foul play and this was now officially a murder investigation. They were looking not for Matt but for a body. A strikeforce had been formed – Strikeforce Bowditch. In August 2008 Atkins was arrested and charged with Matt’s murder. He did not apply for bail and stayed on remand for 13 months until his murder trial from August to October, 2009. After nearly 8 weeks the jury found him not guilty of murder nor manslaughter. I was quoted to the press shortly after the verdict as saying “Not guilty does not mean innocent”.

Does it feel like time has been frozen to that day that you found out he was missing?

Both yes and no. At the time a minute felt like an eternity. Some days you think where have the years gone. But when you begin to go over the events, even though you go through the motions of day to day living, nearly five years on a big  part of you is still in a time warp waiting for that phone call to say they have found his body and you just can’t let go of going over the events and the timeline of those early days, retracing people’s steps and behaviours of that time trying to find a missed clue.

Has your idea of hope changed as time as moved on? What do you hope for now?

There is no change in our hope. Right from the outset we knew Matt wasn’t coming home alive. We still hope his body is found is found for two reasons. Firstly, Matt can be given the send off and place to be laid to rest with dignity that every decent human being deserves and secondly, Matt’s body constitutes “compelling new evidence” which we need to get back into court. There are no double jeopardy rules for murder in this state and Matt’s alleged killer can be re-tried.

People often throw around words like closure and acceptance which the majority of families living with such a traumatic loss rebel against. What do you think people don’t understand about living with the loss of your child?

NOTHING OFFENDS US MORE THAN THIS AWFUL “C” WORD, “CLOSURE”!!!!! We set a high standard and Matt knocking on our front door saying “Sorry I haven’t called IS CLOSURE, NOTHING LESS. So many well meaning friends, colleagues and compassionate members of press often say “Well at least if you can find Matt’s body you’ll have closure.” We just grit our teeth and turn away. Of course we accept Matt’s loss. We accept that he won’t be coming home. What a lot don’t understand is that this kind of a loss is not just an horrific and awful memory it’s also NOW, it never leaves you. NEVER a day goes by where we don’t think of Matt and what he would be doing now if he were alive. Both of us and both of Matt’s brothers are covered in tattoos commemorating Matt so we all never fail to see reminders of him wherever we are.

For most parents, with a child missing, the idea that they grow old and pass away without knowing what happened can be haunting. Is this something that you fixate on?

Yes it certainly is something you do and always will. No parent should ever have to bury a child no matter what age that child is. But what makes it more difficult for us we know Matt is dead, but we can’t even bury our son, so we have a double wammy, missing and dead. Not knowing what happened to him haunts us everyday. We don’t want to go to our graves not knowing, not only for our sake but for the sake of our other two sons. We don’t want them going through their young lives into their twilight years not knowing what happened as well, we don’t want to leave that responsibility on their shoulders, we are the parents it is our responsibility not theirs. Their lives have already been put into turmoil by these advents and by being able to find Matt will in some way let them move forward knowing that their brother has been respectfully laid to rest and we all can say our goodbyes to Matt, even though that will be one of the hardest things to do. At the moment we can’t say our goodbyes and have nowhere to go and visit him.

Finally, what does missing persons week mean for your family?

Sadly, we feel like imposter’s. We feel that we don’t belong. We’ve always thought of missing persons as those who are currently missing with the hope of one day being found or returning. We think of missing persons as living beings out there, somewhere, as yet not found. We’re even a little jealous of those that have strong hope that there loved one will return as we have been denied that hope by Matt’s killer. We have sympathy for and the greatest respect for those that have a cherished one missing and wish those with hope every positive outcome possible. _______________________________________________________


Im always astounded to see that in the midst of sadness and loss people think of good news for others. They see that whilst their own hope is limited, others should still be allowed to hold on to theirs. Thanks Mark and Faye for your honest and insightful words…it was lovely to sit next to you at the launch of the week. For more information about Matt and his family you can follow them here.

Missing, whether it be homicide, suicide, or just not here right now, can cover that range of what a missing person might be defined as. What does ‘missing’ mean to you?

My brother David

A few years back Robyn and I went to watch a performance. A story I had written about her in 2005 had been turned into an interpretive dance piece. We sat still in the audience watching it play out ahead of us. In walking back out to the brightly lit foyer afterwards we stepped to the side and had a giggle…meeting people who have had the worst happen to them doesn’t mean that there isnt a space for a big laugh now and again. Robyn has shared her story of David with you all.

Have a read.

Robyn – its National Missing Persons Week. How many years has David been missing, what were the circumstances around his disappearance?

David went missing in Iran in November 1993.  He was on an extended trip travelling through Europe and had decided to travel home overland through Turkey and Iran and on to India before heading back to Australia.  He was an architect and interested to visit the various monuments in these countries.  He had been staying in Tehran with a family he had met whilst travelling overland from Turkey.  He was last seen leaving their house very early one morning on November 11, in a taxi headed for Tehran airport.  He was due to fly to Shiraz to visit the ruins of Persepolis, and then meet up with the family in a few days time. He never made his rendezvous.  It was a month later before we (David’s family in Australia) learned that something was terribly wrong.  For several weeks we had been surprised not to hear from David – he had been in regular contact with family and friends.  We all just hoped that it would be difficult for him to contact home due to where he was travelling.  This was pre mobile phones and emails, so communication was far less frequent.  When he failed to call before his flight home, we suspected that something was wrong but still had no proof and hoped for the best.  My parents and I headed out to the airport to meet David’s flight on the evening of December 8, 1993, only to watch all the passengers disembark without David.  This was the defining moment when we knew that something was terribly wrong. It was another month before we traced David’s last movements to the family in Iran (tracked back from an address on a box containing a kilim that he had bought in Iran and shipped home).  Despite family travelling to Iran and extensive investigations involving AFP and DFAT, we have had no further news of his whereabouts in over 18 years.

How do you acknowledge the anniversary as it comes around?

There are so many anniversaries that are significant.  The last day we saw him, the day he was due home, birthdays, Christmas.  The day he went missing, November 11, was also my parents wedding anniversary.  It is also marked by Remembrance Day, which is now particularly poignant for me.  When people pause for a minute silence on that day, I think of David.

Your parents passed away without finding David – did they ever come to terms with being able to sit with ‘not knowing?’

Mum and Dad both died longing for news of what had happened to David.  I don’t think they ever came to terms with not knowing and I believe that they both died with broken hearts.  It makes me so sad that the final years of their life had to be so hard.  I have to make a conscious effort to remind myself that they were not always sad and that a large part of their lives had been happy.  It’s easy to remember the worst times when they are the freshest memories. I keep a wedding photo of theirs in a frame at home.  It’s a close up of just the two of them. They are young and look so happy.  When Mum died I felt like it had been so long since I could remember her being happy in any way. That’s when I got this photo out and framed it. I keep it there to remind me that there were good times.

How do you handle the question – have you got any siblings?

It really depends on the situation. It still conjures up very raw emotions for me, even after all this time. I never say that I am an only child, but how much information I share about David’s circumstances depends a lot on who I am with.  Most people don’t cope well when you tell them that your brother is missing. It’s not a situation people are familiar with and as such, don’t know how to respond. The result can some be insensitive comments – a situation I try and avoid.  Sometimes I will say that I had a brother but he died.  If I feel comfortable, I will share my story.

Whats does missing persons week mean to you?

A moment to pause and reflect.  It’s the first week in August which is also my Mum’s birthday – so again anniversaries seem inextricably tied together with “missing”.

Missing seems to permeate everything.  It’s a huge part of who I am.


For more information about National Missing Persons Week or about the only support service in Australia that responds to families click here.


Rituals for the lost, is it possible?

But your name is written on my heart forever

And there is never a day when I do not search for your face

Somewhere, everywhere, anywhere

I see a turn of a head

A back that reminds me of you

And I hurry to look more closely

Only to feel despair again

Because, of course, it is not you

D. McRae McMahon (2003)


There is much that is missing when a person vanishes. There is the oscillation between absence and presence and more profoundly there is the absence of ritual. I began working with families and friends of missing people in Sydney Australia in 2003. Missing soon consumed my focus and I began to notice gaps that I hadn’t noticed before. I noticed that there wasn’t a section in the newspaper that allowed for people to share their loss, to share what it meant to not have a missing person in their lives or to even publicly notify others that a loss had occurred.

When we think of missing we immediately picture posters with multiple images, not unlike headshots, that only capture the name of the person. The posters only serve to identify the person as missing, not as a person in their own right.

A book published in 2011 by Jenny Edkins Missing Persons and Politics reviewed the power of the images of those missing after the September 11 attacks in the US. The book outlines that missing persons posters serve as a ‘precious remnant, a trace, a proof the person exists. This is a person, a missing person, they proclaim’. So to in the celebrating, so far, is the opportunity for the left behind to say this is who I am missing and this is what they meant to me.

Missing cuts across all sectors of the community and missing can occur in a multitude of circumstances – abduction, homicide, mental health concerns, parental child abductions and misadventure but the commonality is that in the very moment where missing occurs there is a loss that a person left behind is enduring.

I began to ask families, in the early days of working with them, what they did to acknowledge their loss. Some found that a ritual, like a memorial service, was not useful as it was an outward sign that the family had given up hope of a return,. For others they focused on providing chances to come together, some held picnics and some found that just sharing in an activity that the missing person had enjoyed provided them with the space to reconnect with the person that was not here. One of the ideas we shared was to introduce the concept of a celebration, so far. By signaling so far the pressure was not placed on the family to concede anything – to concede hopefulness or hopelessness – it just provided the space between loss and remembering and it was a way to come together and share what the person had offered without labeling them just as missing.

While death and its finality provides the chance to follow a clearly worn path both in religiosity and practicality the process of missing is far more ambiguous. In allowing people the space to create their own rituals of remembering the concept of an ambiguous or unresolved loss might be far better understood by the wider community and in turn create better opportunities for support for those enduring such losses.

Its National Missing Persons Week here in Australia, starting today. I have seven scheduled posts to cover the week. Drop back in or follow #nmpw on twitter to join the conversation.

Have you ever thought about the impact of the loss when a person is missing?