Mourning for missing persons

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Robert Maurer
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Mourning for missing persons

Mourning for people who have vanished into thin air is a pain without a name and for which reality is not even helpful. A suffering for which words are not enough to define what one feels.

Last update: June 08, 2020

When something or someone is missing, we can feel an immense emptiness. So big at times that it leads us to reconsider our goals and the meaning of our life. Loss is followed by mourning. But what happens when it comes to pain that comes and goes impetuously? Mourning for people who have disappeared into thin air has several repercussions.



Let's make a premise on the nature of mourning: it is a set of phenomena that follow a loss. Events that go far beyond the psychological aspect and also involve the physical, anthropological, economic, social and spiritual ones. A loss is “a deprivation or lack of someone, something, or mental representations that set in motion affective, cognitive and behavioral reactions” (Tizón, 2013).

Death is a lived life. Life is a death that is coming.

-Jorge Luis Borges-

Mourning for people who have disappeared into thin air: what does it consist of?

It is a sudden and unexpected departure of someone we love. There are several reasons that may have caused the disappearance. This event has a particularly strong impact because relatives feel surrounded by silence and lack of information.

Typically after the disappearance, the family tries to retrace the steps of the loved one in order to reconstruct the information. But this could lead outside the boundaries of legality and not help to trace the truth; it may come close to it, but be dangerous or not have the support of the state.



When a person disappears, there is no trace left; it is not known if she is alive or dead. This situation complicates the grieving process. Among the most common questions in cases of bereavement due to a sudden disappearance is: "How can I accept the loss of the person I love if I am not sure that he is no longer there?"

Why is there talk of pending pain?

The grief caused by the disappearance is a pain that we can define as pending because we pause it every time we recover the hope of finding the person dear to us. It is as if we see the light at the end of the tunnel that invites us not to give up, because that person will come back.

It is therefore an intermittent pain, suspended or paused, due to the anxiety that separates us and that, at the same time, brings us closer to the missing person. This, however, does not mean that it is not difficult; moreover, this "more intense" and "less intense" pain causes profound stress and severe anguish that at times it seems difficult to find a remedy.

The first feeling is one of uncertainty, especially when the disappearance is sudden. It is a profound pain, which has no name, which escapes words, which we do not know how to deal with and whose elaboration can be very different from other forms of mourning.

How to deal with mourning for people who have disappeared into thin air?

How to accept the loss of someone who might return? What words describe such immense pain? How to go on carrying such a great void inside?


In the course of our existence we face various griefs, some natural, the result of a change in our life cycle, and others that we never thought we would have to face. Addressing them is a great challenge, but it is possible to do it.


According to expert scholar Jorge L. Tizon (2004), mourning consists of "psychological mechanisms in favor of the acceptance of the new internal and external reality of the subject ".

Starting from this theory, different stages of mourning have been hypothesized up to the final one: the elaboration of the loss. It is not always possible to pigeonhole mourning for missing persons at these stages, as it is a unique experience.

When a person elaborates a mourning (or grief) he can mourn the remains of the deceased, so very often he begins to accept the situation. In the case of mourning for those who have disappeared into thin air, however, pain cannot find consolation in this aspect: all that remains is uncertainty.

Consequently, the sufferer will feel guilty the moment they begin to accept a death they cannot believe in; it's as if he feels he is killing his loved one.

He opposes resistance, trying to keep alive the image of the missing person, according to Ramírez Guerrero y Salvador, who talks about it in an article published in the Mexican magazine Revista internacional de buena consciencia, in 2014. This situation would seem to prevent mourning.


So how can this type of grief be worked through? When it is difficult to put into words something that causes us particular distress, we can look for alternative ways to communicate, like art. By means of this tool, we can communicate information, but in another way: that in which our unconscious manages to emerge;

This gives life, little by little, to a turning point on the level of awareness, to symbols and, therefore, to words that express our anguish.

We can also rely on resilience. This means dominating what ails us by finding the meaning of our existence, one that is all ours. This does not mean that you stop loving or miss the missing person.


On the contrary, it means giving a value to the “here and now”, and continuing on our path facing it with less pain. We can also turn to someone to help us. A psychologist, for example, can give us a hand.

Mourning for people who have disappeared into thin air is not an easy topic to discuss. We are talking about a pain that is difficult to describe in words, but which we can name as we process it.

Processing is about accepting the loss, not giving up our memories and experiences. Resilience is one of the weapons to deal with such a situation and art is a great driving force capable of weaving a web that gives meaning to our life and our pain.

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