Saturday, 1 August 2015

MH370 wreckage may not provide the closure grieving families seek

For those who lost loved ones on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the utter mystery of exactly what happened nearly 17 months ago has only compounded their grief.

But with the discovery of a barnacle-encrusted wing part on Reunion Island in the western Indian Ocean this week, there is, for the first time, a strong clue about what may have happened to MH370 and its 239 passengers and crew on that fatal flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

The finding is a possible punctuation point in an open-ended story. But it is unlikely to bring anything like full closure say those who have also lost loved ones in mysterious circumstances and have had to grapple with how to grieve the missing.

Ask Bret McCann, whose parents Lyle and Marie McCann vanished on a road trip to British Columbia five summers ago. "I've read about this," he says, "and it's called ambiguous loss, where, psychologically, you're not really sure what happened. I mean. It still bothers me."

Or ask Crystal Dunahee, for whom not having any closure is her daily reality since March 24, 1991, the day her four-year-old son Michael disappeared from an elementary school playground in Victoria, B.C.

Her situation, Dunahee says, has no real comparison to this latest glimmer of hope the families of flight MH370 victims have received.

"You have a plane incident. You know they were on the plane. Whereas we have nothing to show what happened to Michael or where he may be now. We have nothing.

We have no answers."

Just some facts

Sometimes, says author and New Hampshire-based grief counsellor Ashley Davis Bush, when people are seeking what they call closure, they're hopeful they can put an end to the pain because we are, what she calls, "a pain-averse culture."

"What they don't realize is that even when those events occur, whether it's finding a piece of evidence or prosecuting someone or finding an answer, the pain is still going to be there."

Davis Bush doesn't deny that new information can bring a certain amount of relief to grieving families. She simply cautions that "it is not going to erase the pain. It will just give you some facts that provide an answer."

In the McCann case, the last time the retired couple, both in their 70s, were seen alive was July 3, 2010. Video surveillance footage shows Lyle filling up their motorhome at a gas station in their hometown of St. Albert, Alberta.

Lyle and Marie McCann went missing in July 2010 after leaving St. Albert on their way to B.C. (RCMP)

Two days later their burned out RV was discovered in a remote area near Edson. Their bodies were never found.

At first, family members chose to believe they were lost. "For all that winter of 2010 to 2011 we looked after my parents' house, shovelled the snow and kept it clean. So by the next summer police were telling us they were ... gone," says Bret McCann.

A year after the McCanns disappeared, a court declared them legally deceased. And shortly after, the family held a public memorial service on what would have been the couple's 59th wedding anniversary.

Afterward, some family members told Bret McCann that the memorial helped them feel "better." But for him, it had another purpose: to continue the search for his parents.

"I mean, it was a meaningful memorial, but it was also another way to keep it in the public eye."

A mother's pain

Dunahee says she'd much rather know what happened to Michael, even if the answer would be heartbreaking.

"It's always there. We don't have the closure that we need to move on 100 per cent."

For her part, Davis Bush likes to remind people that "we want to believe that pain will stop, but you don't want the love to stop. Feeling the grief is part of having loved them."

For the families of those lost on MH370, their public grieving has been an eventful roller coaster of emotions in the full glare of the world media.

They've watched desperately as authorities chased several, sometimes erroneous leads and searched a vast expanse of the Indian Ocean, to no avail.

Many of the families have already stated that even if the debris is determined to have come from the missing Boeing 777, it's only one piece of a very large puzzle and not nearly enough to give them any real understanding of what happened.

That's not dissimilar to what Bret McCann is going through. Next March, Travis Vader will go on trial for the first-degree murders of Lyle and Marie McCann in Alberta.

But when asked whether that is where the McCann family hopes to find conclusive answers as to exactly where his parents may be, McCann sighs deeply.

"I think we'll know a lot more after the trial, but we won't know everything. I think we'll just ... accept that."

Saturday 1 August 2015


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