The Ugliness of the “Missing”

Yeah, that title got my attention, too.

By “ugly” I am not referring to the missing person (our son), the homeless person, the one suffering from mental illness (our son). I am not setting up myself above as a judge of anyone in this post.

The ugly side of the “missing” is me, as a parent of a missing person, or more specifically, my attitude. Let me explain. But be warned, it is ugly.

Our older son has been missing off and on for the past 30 years. When he was 15 he would go missing for 2-4 days at a time. I would often drive around various neighboring cities trying to find him. On occasion I would find him under cardboard lean-tos, or abandoned houses, or police stations. He was diagnosed as bipolar in 1986.

By 18 he began his first stint in prison, and has been in prison five different times. So, in that sense he was missing; sometimes we learned he was in prison months after it took place. For more background, see this post.

Throughout that time, I struggled with any phone call. Was it the police? Did they find him dead somewhere? Was it him who was calling? Was he wanting only money for alcohol or drugs? I hated to answer the phone.

By the late 1990’s he was truly among the missing. We had not heard from him in 10 years. Finally we heard from him and met him on a trip to the other side of the country in March 2008. It was a good visit.

But I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. What was coming next?

He has been missing since that time.

So where’s the ugly? In my internal struggle.

For the past 30 years I dreaded getting a call that he was dead. But I also inwardly dreaded the thought that he was alive. And all that such a situation might entail. Could I live through another 30 years that were the same as they had been?

Several times I have watched the movie Bringing Ashley Home, based on the true story that Libba Phillips went through trying to find her sister, Ashley. It was close to what we experienced with our son. But I remember one scene when Libba’s mother said she had reached the end of trying to deal with Ashley’s life, disappearance, etc. And I have felt that same way at times.

It has taken time to deal with the ugliness of my attitude. Time to work through the forgiveness for my attitude. Time to reflect on my own frailties and limitations as a parent, as a person, as a Christian. Time to know once again, that it God’s strength—not mine—that allows me to live in the present. And yes, to confess that I still love him, and I want to see him some day.

This has been a difficult post to write, to expose my own failings, to relive the past, to realize how much it is part of my present.

But I can’t not share this. If it helps one person, then it is worth it. Perhaps other parents or family members have struggled inwardly with the same thing. Perhaps they will not feel lonely like I have many times over the past 28 years. Your feeling is not unusual, and you need not live under that cloud for weeks, months, or years.

Author: exegete77

disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, and theologian

9 thoughts on “The Ugliness of the “Missing””

  1. Dear Pastor. I do get the “ugly” and I struggle with it whenever I think about my sister. Trying since 2005 for reconciliation but having reached the point years ago of not really caring and making the effort only because I believe that is God’s way. This situation hardly compares to your heartache because I know my sister is alive and I know where she lives. But this post is about the “ugly” and it exists and rears its ugly head. Thanks be to God that in His Son all things are made new . . for you, your son, for me and for my sister . . the when and how are up to Him./
    Waiting at the throne of grace,

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  2. God bless you, Rich. Thank you so much for being courageous in sharing your heart this way. I know it’s not easy to do. I have no doubt that you will help at least one person, but I suspect there will be many more. My heart hurts for what you’ve had to endure. Keeping you in prayer, my friend.

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  3. I think this kind of family tragedy is much more common than we know. A number of times on trains or in stations, someone ha told me about a missing son, daughter, sibling, or, in one case, a parent. They confide in a stranger because they don’t want to tell anybody they know. A stranger whom they will never see again cannot be a “judge”. But she can’t be any real support for them, either. I am sure your blog has helped people struggling with that terrible loneliness.


  4. Pr. Rich, I’m so sorry about your son. I have had similar problems with mine. He left home at 16 on Thanksgiving and I didn’t know if he was dead or alive for a long time. We put up posters and everything a parent does, ya know? I had inner turmoil of anger, hurt, depression, and all the emotions. It took me nearly dying in 2010 for him to wake up and see that what he was doing was causing not only himself pain, but others.

    He still has not returned to his baptism, but he has returned to me as a son (he is 25 now and we just adore one another). I will pray the same for you guys. May our children come to the true Father, though, that they may have peace with God and allow Him to work on them as He works on us as failing, hurting, and fallen parents.

    God be with you,

    Tamara Blickhan


  5. Thanks Pastor, it’s nice to hear you speak openly about something so taboo, and yes ugly! This is something that must be brought into the light. Thanks for doing your part.


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