On Monday evening my wife and I had the privilege of attending the Missing People Carol Service at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London hosted by Sir Trevor McDonald OBE. Less than 5 minutes from where I was found in the Spring of 2017, transferred from a police car into a police van with wire mesh windows and taken to Charing Cross Police Station and later escorted to a psychiatric hospital under a section of mental health law that I had spent the last eight years of my career teaching to qualifying and post qualifying practitioners as a university lecturer in social work. I felt nothing and remember only the bright hospital lights, the kindness of the police, the interrogations of staff, the toilet filthy and filled to overflowing with paper that sat in the middle of a room with observation windows and no privacy. I felt utterly bemused at being asked to sign a blank section document and when I refused on the basis that it had absolutely no information written on it was advised that they would “fill it in later, after you have signed it”. I knew it was illegal and was trying to hold on to my sense of self whilst trying desperately to fight my way verbally out of a situation that threatened my freedom and my need for solitude and peace and safety. From somewhere inside of me the rhetoric of policy and practice that had inspired and driven my career, that sense of injustice, that anger at misrepresentation and stereotypical perspectives on mental health crisis were now the only defences I had left. I knew all of the right things to say and do to ensure that I got discharged and every last bit of energy achieved that because it was an environment that was threatening, frightening and disempowering. I was released late into the night with no coat, no glasses, no money, no idea of where in London I was, miles from the familiar territory I had taken solace in, my only crime being the devastation of my mums death and the realisation that I was a missing person. My wife was 200 miles away. I had to borrow a phone, ring her so that she could locate where I was on google maps, book and pay for a taxi to come and find me and arrange somewhere for me to stay until she could make the journey to reunite us the following day having herself endured days of police scrutiny including the searching of our home. When we were reunited we spent two days hidden together in a hotel room crying away ten years of caring for my beautiful mum whose own spirit of fun and vibrancy had too been stolen by the tortuous spirit of dementia. My heart was broken, bereaved, lost and unable to care for or think for myself. I had felt like a frightened child as if standing in the middle of a busy road, traffic speeding passed, invisible, vulnerable and alone.
The poignancy of that parallel world is almost beyond literary description as I sat listening to The Missing People Choir in this beautiful church on Monday evening singing the very same song that had spoken to my brokenness whilst I sat alone in Hyde Park all of those months ago, the catalyst for my asking for help as a man cleaning the park had stopped with his trolley to ask me if I was “waiting for a friend”. It is a song that quite literally touches my soul as I dare to consider where I might have been had I not been so comforted and reassured by it in my darkest of days. And I have such a mixed bag of feelings, feelings that range from guilt at seeing the pain and hearing the stories of devastated families of missing people, feeling as if I am in some way representative of their pain and distress and yet on the other hand deeply attached to those individuals who sing their hearts out in support of their missing loved ones. These are people who have found a strength and an energy collectively that unites and empowers and comforts them and yet each time I hear their voices I too feel comforted and reassured and bonded to a community that is devoted to searching, keeping hope, believing for change.
It is a strange, beautiful and extraordinarily precious thing to have been brought into this family of people and to sit alongside them in remembrance and resilience and solidarity. I have a sense of pride and humility, thankfulness, commitment and love for this charity because when traditional services failed me they quietly and unassumingly reached out their hands and reeled myself and my loved one in…and there they have stayed throughout the whole healing process providing back up, specialist counselling, the promise of a voice on the end of the telephone 24/7 and now, friendship, friendships that are developing as the months roll on, connections that are initiated through loss and endorsed through a shared sense of belonging and survival.
Yesterday we spent time revisiting those places where I had been lost and there are still lost people living there amongst the chaos where night meets the day in the cold and harsh realisation that today will be the same as yesterday, each with their own stories of loss and sadness. As long as I live I shall remember the individuals who I met and wonder if they too were rescued. We revisited places that had shown kindness and took boxes of ‘Heroes’ chocolates to say thank you. We stopped at the doorway where I was told to move one because “decent people use this place” an embassy office! And we cursed the cruelty of ignorance and selfishness and hoped for more kindness and empathy and humanity and grace.
So, on Monday evening we were shoulder to shoulder with those who have been lost and those who still search for the missing and we lit candles and prayed and sang and breathed the same air because we care about each other and that, in a world of such division and negativity is a gift worth cherishing.
Sending my love to all those who have missing loved ones, to those who support and care for those affected by ‘missing’ and to those who are not with the people they love this Christmas. You are thought about and not forgotten and may the breath that we share and the air that we breathe carry you safely home.
With Love, Ju xx