Different Kinds of Loss

9 October 2012 Alan Attwood

Different Kinds of Loss

Just recently, a flyer appeared outside the station closest to The Big Issue’s Melbourne office. It showed a young woman’s face under the stark headline MISSING. That story ended badly: the woman’s body was found a few days later. A great many missing person cases remain unresolved. One of the many things that makes the faces on those flyers or the Salvation Army ‘Missing You’ notices so haunting is knowing that some people, somewhere, are waiting for news or information that may never come. In 2005, well before I started my present role here, I met one of those people – a woman named Jenny Dymott, whose 26-year-old son, Andrew, had walked away from his sister’s home, south of Melbourne, one warm weekend and hadn’t been heard from since. When we talked, more than six years after she’d last seen Andrew, the tears still came when she spoke of her oldest son and the hole his disappearance had left in her family’s life. It was the not knowing that hurt, she said; the lack of resolution. One thing she said was especially poignant: because Andrew liked watching cricket, she still found herself scanning crowd shots during TV broadcasts of cricket – just in case she recognised a face in the crowd.

The other day, prompted by our cover stories on missing people for this edition, I got in touch with Jenny Dymott again, wondering if there had been any developments in the past seven years. Her reply: “Our only news is that there has been no news and that I have somewhat less hope than I did.” There are similarities here with the story Tim Warrington relates about his brother, Alexander, now missing for 20 years. Again, what happened to a young man remains a mystery, although Tim concludes his story: “I find that, as the years pass, the not knowing, which once caused such pain, affords a little relief. It lets me imagine that he is still alive, that he must have had his reasons for disappearing, that he is safe and well…somewhere.”

Stories like this remind us that beyond the facts and figures (35,000 people reported missing in Australia every year) there is real, and raw, human drama. One thing that has changed, though, since I met Jenny Dymott is the advent of social media and other online forums. As Melissa Cranenburgh explains in this edition, people searching for others now use Facebook as a tool. Posting photographs in a print magazine, or on flyers in public places, is now a decidedly old-fashioned way of soliciting news. But the web, as always, is a double-edged tool. Information can be unfiltered or unverified, and all sorts of privacy issues are raised. People desperately seeking information must often face the reality that the one they are looking for may not actually want to be found. So they can be left in limbo, without the finality that accompanies a family bereavement. In time, after a death, there can be closure of sorts. Without certainty, however, a missing person case can mean an endless wait.

This edition’s ‘My Word’ reflects a different kind of loss. It is a story written by a former member of The Big Issue family, Emil Kogan. Actually, that’s not quite right – although his staff position ended a couple of years back, Emil never really left The Big Issue. He stayed in touch and kept writing stories. He wrote the one we now publish partly to explain the empathy he felt for those who sell our magazine. His parents have said that this is the only publication in which they wanted to place a death notice: Emil’s ‘My Word’ is just that. And our work goes on, just as he would have wanted. Buy a magazine or, just as importantly, smile at a vendor for him.