I am writing this from my own experience, having been in that "world" for 6 years and having a resolution, although not the one I wanted. I also am in contact with other people who have missing loved ones. The following is a list of things that I see, looking back, that I wish I had known. They are also things that I see still happening to people right now. So here goes....
Be Cautious to whom you give your personal information
Just because a person joins searches for your loved one doesn't mean they get automatic "family" status. These people who so fervently insert themselves in your search can be overbearing and manipulative. It can be their way of getting some notoriety or getting to feel like they are contributing. The latter is not so bad, but still, be careful. If they know too much about you, it starts to crowd your personal life and give people access to places in your life they haven't earned.
There is some sort of "war" going on between some organizations that are supposed to be helping families
Stay away. If you have one Organization Director bad mouthing another... don't join in. Your focus should always be on your missing loved one and the facts. Period.
There are always people who want to poke holes in your story
Ignore them, and if they must have an answer, simply explain to them, that the story will constantly change and there is nothing you can do about it. People will always be giving you good/bad information and as a family member looking for a loved one, you will always want to check any info given. If someone else can't see the confusion of that, they should just be ignored.
Don't feel like you have to post your loved one's info on only one organization's site
You might feel like you "owe" someone loyalty in your search. You don't. They are in business to help you. If they make you feel indebted... then they are not doing their job correctly. I can't stress this enough. There are very many organizations out there and most work together, which is wonderful. But they mostly all have a different hook. One org does physical searches while another pays for them. One does Billboards and another helps with emotional support, etc. They are all equally fantastic and useful. So don't limit yourself out of a false sense of loyalty. Again, your focus is not their comfort, it should be on your loved one. They aren't going through the same thing as you are (well most of them aren't). I mean, if YOU were in their shoes, wouldn’t you want the family you are helping to get as much exposure and assistance as possible?
Don't allow your information to be repeated in an untruthful way
ALWAYS double check what an organization or news story wants to post about your story before printing. Press releases and Missing Person's posters should always include the facts and be spelled correctly with proficient grammar. No one will take a story seriously if a person can't take the time and respect to get the information right. You are not required to allow anyone to pass out incorrect information on your behalf. I had an instance where I talked to a woman on the phone who wanted to do a “press release”… I agreed to the facts, and she bent them to meet her media goals. Then she created a flyer that had my Mom’s name misspelled, the words were all over the page and the facts were very limited. When I asked her to fix it, she treated me like I was being ungrateful. And I fell for it….
Do not, under any circumstances, allow an organization to “nominate” you to be a volunteer for them
If you ask to be a volunteer, that is fantastic and this world could do with more of you. But when you are going through such a traumatic experience, the last thing you need to do on top of that is have to feel like you have to go out and search for everyone else. I know how harsh this sounds, so hear me out..... When you are working a full time job and taking care of your family, all while looking for your loved one, the last thing your heart needs is to be filled up with everyone else' searches. It is one thing to be an advocate and get others messages out. By all means, please and thank you. But to have to physically exhaust yourself over someone else' "nomination" is unfair and exploitative. Especially if you feel like you “owe” your service to them because they have helped you. Remember, they went into business to help people like you… They shouldn’t expect anything from you. You need to focus on your loved one.
Be gracious and kind without exhausting yourself
Folks need to be reassured that you are thankful for their help. You don't need to shower them with accolades or push their message to the media. A simple thank you is far more easy for someone in your situation to deliver than a grand gesture such as certificates, flowers and immense media coverage. It is exhausting and true souls will understand that and be grateful that you aren't getting over stressed to the point you can't focus on your loved one.
Give yourself a break
Not everyone is strong enough to take on such an endeavor.... You probably already know what I mean. You are probably the only person in your family fervently searching for your loved one. I have been there. I used to be so hard on myself and so angry at the rest of my family. Looking back, I had every right to be angry at them, but not so hard on myself. But my anger didn't get me anywhere and only made me feel worse. It didn't push any of them into action. Once I was able to accept that, I wasn’t so hard on myself. Unfortunately, my acceptance happened after my Mom was found. I wish I had thought of it when I was searching.
Do not let an Organization director or chairperson treat you badly
No matter what the circumstances are..... No one has a right to treat you like dirt, or call you names. No matter what. If this happens to you, don't engage. Don't reply. Send that information to the police and to everyone else that you have joint contact with. This person should be held accountable for their actions so that they won’t repeat them to others. There is never any instance where a professional should treat a victim's family members badly. Ever. You don't owe them anything and should not allow them to make you feel badly when you are already going through enough. Even if you started it, they should be professional and ignore it. You are going through a rough enough time and need understanding, not a meany beating you down. I am not saying you have a right to start stuff with someone, just saying that the professional should not allow for the conversation to progress. This should never be an issue, but sadly it is.
The MEDIA is a great tool
But don't let yourself become a mediamonger. A mediamonger is someone whose soul purpose is getting their story to the media, rather than actually looking for their loved one. When your goal is having your loved ones story be the most popular, you can lose a lot of valuable actual searching time. You need those minutes. Nancy Grace won't give you that time back, CNN certainly won't. When you worry more about the pose you are making in the picture, than if the truth of the message is getting to the targeted people (locals who might know something, law enforcement, and helpful organizations), then you need to take a minute, regroup and get back on task. If people recognize you more than your loved one... it's kinda messed up. Focus on the facts... Not the amount of hits your story gets.
You can take these tips or leave them. They are from my personal experience and had I known, I would have navigated the "scene" much better than I did. I would not have allowed myself the frustrations that I endured that I could have been placing on looking for my mother, rather than petting someone's ego or allowing things to happen because I was so desperate forr help.
I hope this helps some of you with what you might be struggling with inside, and not sure how to express it or handle it.
There are so many fantastic organizations out there and I hope you can get all of the help that is available to make your journey easier on you. I also hope that you remember this is not about anyone else, but your loved one. If you keep your focus you will be ok. Good Luck.
Stephanie Thompson is the daughter of missing Catherine Lique. Catherine went missing in 2003, her remains were found in the California desert in 2008, and positively identified through DNA over a year later.
Editor's note: This article in no way reflects upon any particular missing persons organization, website or support group, but is meant to bring unity between families and the organizations that serve them.