The Missing Persons Advocacy Network (MPAN) has launched a world-first therapeutic tool to support families of long-term missing people processing ambiguous loss – one of the most traumatic types of grief.

Launched for National Missing Persons Week, The Hope Narratives will assist people struggling with complex, difficult, and often conflicting emotions that cannot be easily managed with standard grief counselling practices.

The Hope Narratives consist of a set of 145 tangible cards each displaying a sentiment from someone who has experienced what it’s like to live with, and survive, ‘the unending not-knowing’. Putting these series of statements together, users can construct their own unique hope narrative from their individual lived experience.

Loren O’Keeffe, Founder and CEO of the Missing Persons Advocacy Network, said all three categories of the cards (hard truths, coping mechanisms and hopes) capture the innermost feelings of a community that typically feels unheard.

“When a loved one goes missing, there is no right way to deal with it. You oscillate from hope to hopelessness, overwhelmed by the physical, mental and emotional burden, often feeling no one understands what you’re going through,” Ms O’Keeffe says.

“It’s OK to feel uncertainty, hope, exhaustion, numbness – or even anger at your loved one for going missing. The Hope Narratives help bring out real and authentic emotions and in doing so, validate experiences in a really meaningful way.”

Forty-four loved ones of long-term missing people from across Australia and seven other countries participated in the creation of the cards by sharing their own experiences through workshops and interviews, to help others articulate their complex emotions as they navigate ambiguous loss.

Those less-inclined to seek traditional methods of therapy are able to work through this exercise in the comfort of their own home. The cards can also complement a standard counselling session; prompting conversations that may be difficult to start.

According to Dr Sarah Wayland, Senior Lecturer and Missing Persons expert, the cards provide a novel and effective new treatment option for those struggling with traditional ways of coping with their unique loss.

“Unfortunately, standard grief counselling is vastly inadequate due to the fundamental differences between bereavement and missingness,” Dr Wayland said.

“The result is that it can prevent many people from seeking much needed support because counsellors don’t have the knowledge or the tools to support those experiencing what happens when a loved one goes missing.”

Dr Wayland pointed out that The Hope Narratives in combination with specialist knowledge about ambiguous loss can be transformative for families who are psychologically and emotionally impacted by a loved one’s disappearance.

The Hope Narratives are the culmination of expertise from the Missing Persons Advocacy Network, Dr Sarah Wayland, WhiteGREY and the 44 family members and loved ones who took part in the co-creation process.  

National Missing Persons Week is an important reminder that over 53,000 people were reported missing in Australia last year; a more than 30% rise in reports since 2020. While most are found within a week, over 400 people annually become long-term missing persons.

The Hope Narratives are available for purchase via the MPAN website.