By Erica Morse
Editor-in-Chief, Victims News Online
Updated 12:00am CST, December 9th, 2012
When I logged onto FaceBook this morning, there was a flyer tagged onto my page. It came from Cynthia Caron, President/Founder of LostNMissing, an organization dedicated to assisting the families of missing people. The flyer was designed as a reminder of “why” it is so important for every volunteer, advocate, law enforcement agent, etc., to continue the fight of finding our missing each and every day.
Seeing that flyer — and the tears of each person with a missing loved one — instantly took me back to years’ past. I suddenly saw the flash of a memory, one that repeated itself every year, every Holiday, and every time an important milestone took place in my family. For in that flyer, I saw the tears of my father.
“Al” was a strong man; a rough, gruff, loud and boisterous man of Polish/German descent, who loved to laugh and was the life of the party. A lifelong truck driver, he was a strong man physically, and seemed to be able to tackle anything put in front of him. He would give the shirt off his back to help someone in need, and I’d like to think some of that kindness was passed on through his children. And he was my hero. In my eyes, nothing could break him — or his father — the two strongest men I knew. But unbeknownst to me for many years, behind their strength and smiles, there was heartbreak and pain.
Every family has secrets; and ours was no different. Growing up, I used to watch the elders in my family huddle together in my grandparents’ dining room during times of loss or grief, where quiet conversations took place which didn’t include the children. It wasn’t until I was a little older — nine or 10, perhaps — that I learned what those whispers were about, and learned the painful secrets our elders tried to keep from us, in an effort to avoid further pain.
My grandfather never knew his father. As such, my father never knew his grandfather. From a marriage certificate, we know my great-grandfather’s name was Clifford Morse. He disappeared around 1923, while making plans to move from the Illinois/Wisconsin area into northwest Indiana. He never arrived. As a child, I watched my grandfather — this amazing man — struggle with the knowledge that his own father had never been found. Yet, he was an amazing role model to us, and somehow managed to epitomize everything wonderful about love and loyalty. He radiated love — probably, partly, from his own pain. Also a hard-working truck driver (like my father), he sacrificed a lot to provide for his family. Yet, there was always that grief — that loss — and worse yet, the not knowing.
It was around the same time I learned of my great-grandfather’s disappearance that I learned of yet another family secret — I had another sibling. A nasty custody battle in the 1970’s forced choices by some that would haunt our family for the next 12 years — and beyond. And while some prefer to keep this “taboo” subject quiet, it is through this mission — the mission to find other missing people — that I realized what happened to my family is probably happening to families of other missing/separated persons.
When someone goes missing, people don’t always know “what” to say. If you ever ask yourself, “Should I mention their missing loved one?”, my answer is a resounding “YES!” Just because someone has disappeared — or has been separated from other members of their family — does not mean that his/her loved ones have forgotten. And while some people fear the mere mention of the person’s name will dredge up emotions and pain — and it will — it also reminds them you care. Too often, missing people aren’t discussed — it’s “painful” or “embarrassing,” depending upon the circumstances; but whether you mention that person or not, his/her loved ones still feel the pain, and certainly carry it with them on a daily basis.
No matter how hard we tried to avoid it, there was — inevitably — a moment during every Holiday where my father broke down. He sat on that footstool and let the tears flow. He cried. He screamed. He negotiated with God to return his child to him. And inevitably, that grief turned to anger, as he consistently questioned why our family was tasked to endure not one — but two — missing loved ones. He felt our family had been “gypped”; and never quite understood why this was a multi-generational issue within our family tree. And no matter what I said or did, I could neither stop his pain nor soften his grief; and looking back now, I don’t believe I was meant to do so.
It is through the families of the missing that we learn some of our biggest lessons: how to be strong, how to go on, and how to find the will to live, honor, celebrate, and love while enduring a hole in one’s heart that will never be filled. When answers are found, closure can take place. But even with closure or justice, that feeling of loss still exists, if our loved one never physically returns. It is only in those cases where we are reunited with our loved one(s) that we begin to really move on; and even then, other circumstances may come into play, which can make certain relationships impossible to repair. Not everyone who is missing “wants” to be found, or even considers themselves “missing”; but they are “missed” by those who love them, whether they know it or not. And in some cases, opinions have been formed, alienation has occurred, and some families never fully recover from the initial separation.
While my great-grandfather has never been found, my sister was. It was a knock on our front door which brought closure to my father for one of his missing; but he never found answers for the other. While we — the family — spent years combing the Internet, phone books, library archives, etc., trying to find one possible clue as to what happened to Clifford, there was always a hole in our lives, and in our hearts.
When my grandfather became ill in 2001, I scrambled to find the answers he so desperately wanted, but failed. And when my father became ill four years’ later, I scrambled once again, and failed then, too. So I continue on, still trying to find some answer behind Clifford’s disappearance; and while I know — 89 years’ later — he is probably long-deceased, the questions still plague me, because they plagued the men I loved.
On December 9th, 2005 — seven years’ ago today — I said “goodbye” to my father. As I held his hand during those last breaths, I promised him we would find answers. As I looked at that flyer this morning — and realized the timing was no accident — I saw the pain on the faces of the families of the missing, and was reminded of that promise. I know we can never give up hope. We can never give up seeking answers; and we can never stop looking for our missing. For it is because of their loved ones’ pain, we find the will to help; and new love is formed, as new friendships are developed. While we struggle to find answers for so many, we hope — and pray — that our will to assist brings them some level of comfort. For it is through this will, they find the strength to continue searching. And for the families of the missing, it is at least of some comfort that they are not in this alone.
If you have any information on Clifford Morse, please e-mail: email@example.com. It is believed he may have moved to New York or California sometime around mid-1923.