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17 Sep 2016

Missing: 40-year wait for next of kin

A piece of paper in an envelope is due to shake the family tree. May Wilson disappeared from her first family in 1943, from her second in 1958 and her brother was only dimly aware of her existence. Still a toddler in 1943, we think his sister called by late one rainy night on a lonely journey, leaving by the morning.

So where is she?

As the decades rolled round, the three families had only faint memories of each other and more unanswered questions about the woman, May, who'd gone missing so successfully from their lives.

We held a triumphant reunion in Spring for the three families, now absolutely and determinedly one. Going home, I heard that one of the group still couldn't sleep at night, waking up wondering what happened to May. At the gathering, some of us darkly joked that she would arrive unannounced in her nineties like the bad fairy of Sleeping Beauty's baptism.

In the end I feel anger that the family has had to wait forty years for their three separate stories of loss and missing to be resolved.

It seems May had been dead since 1976. I found that out this week. She was in her fifties and moving around a large urban city. Nobody knew her age or full name, and the funeral took place with her family absent and unaware. They still don't know she's dead.

This week the official death certificate will be posted to me and I'll be able to break the news, 40 years after the funeral. Daughters are lined up to tell their parents that their mother or sister has been gone since 1976.

In the middle of this storm of brutal news comes a dove, a bird with good tidings in its mouth and a glow of light around. Photo! From a loft in the Welsh borders an aunt has something rescued from May's chaotic tragic life. Her photograph.

At what human cost this photo came: every day a struggle, screaming out for medication which won't arrive for years, for anything to take away the pain.

For me the photo doesn't show pain but love. Her family cared enough to exhume this photo and dwell on the features of a lady who is both missed and missing. Some day her family hope to find her grave and maybe too, to let her picture show from a wall.

I've never had anyone missing. The closest is old schoolfriends, who arrived long before Facebook could log and chart our giggles. And when my delicate childhood brain didn't know how to log people's identifying labels for future easy retrieval. I'll get on to that at some point, I miss them, I'll admit.

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