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A sibling's story                


He was on an overseas holiday, been away for about three months, just backpacking around the place. He'd been largely travelling through Europe and then he was heading home. We had heard from him when he arrived in Tehran and he was fine. We hadn't heard from him in that last month which was really unusual but at the same time we thought,'Well it's going to be hard to contact us' so we didn't really panic at that point in time. Then the day he was due home we started to get anxious. There had always been an unspoken rule in our family, with both my brother and myself that whenever you were away you rang before you got on the plane to come home.

We started to think 'That was a bit strange', so we all went to the airport and Mum took copies of his passport and all of his travel details. We got to the airport and waited. It was the last flight due in that night and we waited and all of the people came through and then they shut the doors because there was no one else left on the plane. It was just so late at night we went home and the next day we started ringing around his friends and we found out that everyone had last heard from him about the same time that we had.

THEN WE STARTED TO THINK 'GOD WHAT DO WE DO?' so we started contacting various people. The first thing we did was starting checking with the airlines to see if he had made any of his connecting flights and he hadn't made any of those. We knew he was either in Iran, Pakistan or India. Then we checked all of his bank accounts and that sort of business.

We then contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs and started that process. We then remembered about a week before he had actually sent home a box from Iran. We hadn't thought about it at the time, but remembered it about three weeks after we realised that he was missing. Mum got this box out as she realised it had some writing in Farsi on the side. We wondered if it was a name so we took it to his work as he worked with an Iranian woman and she translated it. It turned out to be a name and an address so we gave this to Foreign Affairs and they found that it was the details of a family he had been staying with in Iran.

It turned out that he had met a woman, it was woman he had met travelling overland on a bus from Turkey and she said 'Come and stay with us while you are in Tehran'. She said he stayed with them until a certain date and then he bought a plane ticket to fly to Shiraz and was then due to meet up with the family again in another town and then travel with them for a few days. He never made that connection. He was due to catch a flight to Shiraz and we assume that he made that flight because there was a ticket checked in, but we don't know anything else beyond that point. The family didn;t appear too concerned when he didn't turn up, they thought that he'd met some other people and decided to travel with them.

We localised the search to Iran and things were really slow in dealing with Foreign Affairs so we took things into our own hands. My brother's work hired a Farsi speaker and basically started to ring around police stations in Iran. We were told all of these stories; I would presume it would be the case with people ringing around here (in Australia). You know people said 'Oh yes we know him, we shot him for being a foreigner', all of these awful, awful stories and basically we've never had any further information from that day. That was twelve years ago, that we found out the name of the family he stayed with and they contacted us. That's the last known contact for my brother with any known person.

I CAN'T TALK FOR EVERYONE but I know that if someone I knew went missing, tomorrow I would do everything exactly the same again. The only difference would be learning to understand that you can get on with things eventually and that life does continue.

I remember really early on when my Dad and I travelled to Iran to look for Adam, there was always an element of hope for a while that we'll find out what happened. With my brother, and perhaps this is really naive on my part, there was never any doubt in my mind that something really awful had happened to him. It had never, ever occurred to me that he had done this deliberately and because we thought we knew that something terrible has happened to him, we always worried that he was in a prison somewhere. At the beginning we were doing so much, I thought we have to be able to find out what happened to him.

Adam went missing in the November, we found out in the December and I remember the next April waking up one morning and just thinking 'God we are never going to find out'. That sense that we weren't getting anywhere that we were never going to find him. I remember that day so clearly and I think that's what made me start to think, 'OK how can we go on and do everything we need to do and sort of move forward? Well not move forward, but get used to the fact that this was what it was going to be like'.

PEOPLE OFTEN SAY TO ME 'OH GET OVER IT' and you don't get over it, you just get used to it. That's the difference. Twelve years later I still think about it every single day, there's not a day that goes past where I think 'Oh I wonder what's happened?' It might not be gut wrenching in the thinking about it, but there's always a part of you that wonders what happened. It's just a huge unanswered question. Until you know, you'll never, ever stop thinking about it.

That morning in April when I woke up, I think it was hope extinguished more than anything else and then I guess I got really angry with everyone around us. We had psychics ringing up and I felt they were giving my parents false hope. They were telling them not to worry, that he was alive. I mean how would they have known that? You just think it's good to have hope, we all need hope, but the hope has to be balanced with a bit of reality as well.

SOME PEOPLE'S COMMENTS WERE STUPID. I had a friend say 'He probably wasn't murdered. He probably went off into the desert and just died of thirst'. I remember thinking, if you compare it to murder in cold blood, I guess that's the better scenario but people are telling us these things as though it's some kind of comfort. I kept thinking that's still awful! People have really weird ideas about what is reassuring and comforting.

Personality wise, all of my friends have commented to me that I had changed. For a while I got criticised that I had become bitter. I was really angry at the fact that people could go missing and it's so hard to get anything done. You just assume that human life is valued more than it actually is; you really get angry at how hard it is.

I know since then I have developed a really low tolerance level. That's one of the really good things that have come out of it; I've learnt how to deal with agencies and authorities and all of the games and manipulations you have to play to get things done, that's changed me completely. It's made me more strategic in the way I deal with things, a lot more forthright I guess. But now, I mean people are amazed that I wasn't always as outspoken as I am now. Now I just say what I think, before I would have said internally 'Oh I don't agree with that' but now I just say it. I think this comes out of the need to know and the need to get things done. You're thinking to yourself that every day counts here and we want it done quickly. If you don't say it and you don't push then nothing is going to happen.

IT CHANGED THE DYNAMICS OF EXISTING FRIENDSHIPS. There were some groups of people who I'd been friends with for years, who I thought were really good friends. They are still good friends but they weren't the emotional support people I needed. I guess that's where part of the bitterness and resentment came from; I thought these people would be there to help me. I remember telling some the day after we realised Adam had disappeared and then I didn't hear from them again for another three weeks and I found that really hard. When I confronted them about it they said 'You have to understand we're also having a really hard time dealing with this situation and stuff' and you think 'What!?'

Then at the same time you have people you maybe thought of as acquaintances suddenly emerge as being really strong people. They still are now and because you've been through so much together, it becomes an incredible friendship. You really get to assess people. It makes me much more aware now. I hope that it makes me a better friend through a crisis, that you think more about how you are responding to them.

I THINK AT THE BEGINNING IT WAS HARD FOR MY MUM. It has probably made me closer to my parents because we had to be. We had a lot of outward help in the beginning but after a while, all the help came from within us. I guess the main thing that I became aware of, was that my parents really aged significantly when it happened. I don't think they've ever gotten over that. You become an only child overnight. It changed our relationship overnight, whereas normally you'd have that general transition where you gradually look after your parents. For me it happened overnight where I had to start looking after them and making sure they were OK. That was the biggest change. Automatically they become dependant on you. That happened really quickly.

I think I was spared the guilt and shame. My parents weren't though because they got questions from friends like 'Well, why was he in Iran?' and were almost made to feel like bad parents because they had let him go there despite the fact that he was twenty seven and he could do what he wanted. It was just a cultural thing; people who criticised them had never even been there. We have backpackers go missing in Australia and no one ever tells them not to come here. I think that was probably the main issue for them.

It was almost a sense that he was asking for it because he went to Iran, for my parents that was a really hurtful thing for them to have to contend with. It's also been the issue that they may have thought that they had failed as parents. It doesn't matter how many times you say it wasn't their choice as to where Adam was, I can't change Mum's mind. The thing that Adam and I loved about our parents was the fact that they respected the choices we made.

Mum's guilt makes it hard because it's a part of our relationship. It makes it hard for her to move on and move forward. I have been able to almost make it a little compartment in my life. I've heard people make this analogy, you know you build a little fence around Adam and sometimes I'll go in there and I'll have a good think about all of the possible scenarios and then I make myself feel really, really sick and feel horrible. I don't go there often; you just stay outside the wall. You might think about it but you don't think about all the nasty stuff because I've managed to almost compartmentalise it in a way.

Maybe my Mum's interpretation is that I don't want to talk about him. I wish she could do what I do, not forget about him but put it aside and not make it all about him so that it doesn't dominate her whole life because it does. Between the not knowing and the questions, it's so hard for her to move on.

I THINK IT'S PROBABLY EASIER FOR ME because I'm younger and I've got out and done other things. The older you get the less the opportunities arise where you can replace what's happened with new experiences. To fill the gap with other distractions, you just get to a point where you don't want to be labelled as a sibling of a missing person. Invariably when I speak to people and they find out about it, it's challenging, now I sometimes try and not even get into that conversation. Sometimes when the conversation comes up and people think that I'm an only child I speak up and say, 'I had a brother but he died' and that usually shuts people up pretty quickly. There was a time where I would have given anything not to mention it, only because I would probably start crying. Even now it's hard because you never know what the reaction might be, but I probably care less what people think now.

THE HOPE NEVER GOES AWAY, part of me thinks it's absurd but then part of the hope comes from the scenarios that people give you. There are always little possibilities hanging around that make you question the reality of what may have happened to him. It adds to the 'maybe' scenario. However that's where those ideas come in again that you just have to do what you have to do. Part of me knows that we did everything that we could possibly do.

I can reflect on images or thoughts about my brother but I guess I really remember my last conversation with Adam much more than any other conversation. The main thing is that I just have that regret that I wish I had of spent more time with him. There were things I remember that we had arranged to do that we never got around to doing. They're the things I remember and wish that we'd done them.

My thought was that I knew that Adam would be thinking that you have to go out and have fun. It's not like I feel that because he's not here, I should live his life for him. It's more that if he came back and found that I wasted the last ten years he'd be angry and want to know 'Well what have you been doing you idiot!!' I just know that he would be expecting me to get on and do the things that I wanted to do. That's what I say to Mum too, 'Adam would be really angry if he came back and saw you being so miserable'. It doesn't help her but I still say it. I just know that that would be what he would be thinking.

I think it's so much harder for my Mum not to have a distraction. I was still at uni when Adam went missing, so everything was so exciting, everything was ahead of me. For my Mum she's getting to the age where you don't have that many friends, you don't have that big support network. You also don't have much family because your own parents have already died. Maybe other families are different, where the parents have dealt with it better than the children.

I WOULDN'T WANT ADAM TO COME BACK AND SEE ME WALLOWING IN PITY but then at the same time he might came back and be really angry that I wasn't still searching for him. He was always my big brother, so if he could see me now, I reckon he'd say 'Wow I can't believe my little sister did all of this'. I think he'd laugh at me because when he rang he was in Iran, you see we didn't actually know that he was going to Iran. He only organised his visas while he was overseas and smartly enough didn't tell Mum until he was there because he knew that she'd freak. When he rang he said 'I'm in Tehran'. I was so jealous and told him that I would have loved to have gone there. So I'd guess he'd probably laugh because I did get to go in the end".