Last year, I was sitting on a train, reading a newspaper when I read that National Missing Persons Helpline was in severe financial trouble. I guess the reasons for this is that NMPH works with a lot of people who are on the margins of society such as the homeless, substance abusers and the mentally ill. Also, the whole concept of having a loved one go missing is something that most people think will never happen to them and therefore they don't get many donations.
So when I get home I decide to go online to donate money to them. When the homepage comes up, a small heading marked "Unidentified" caught my attention. I clicked on it. A page comes up stating that this section contains details of people who have been found dead and they have not been able to identify the body. Then you are warned that this material may be disturbing to some viewers. An internal debate ensues: morbid curiosity versus not wanting to upset myself. Morbid curiosity won.
I'm not sure what I expected to see. Maybe just a few recent cases, but in fact there are many listed. People of all ages. Some found over ten years ago. The causes of death are varied too. There are suspicious circumstances and suspected suicides along with those who have died of natural causes. The clothes the people were found in are described and it's clear that a lot of these people were well dressed, took good care of themselves.
What stuck in my mind were the images. The NMPH have people trained in recontructions and visual impressions in order to show what the person looked like. These images were stuck in my head for a long time afterwards.
It seems almost unimaginable, that someone can die without anyone knowing who they are. We all come from families, have friends, colleagues, neighbours. How in a "modern" society can people die and not be unidentified? What does that say about our society and how little we care for the people in it? You imagine that if you died, you would have a funeral, be laid to rest by those who care for you, who would be able to mourn for you. For reasons unknown to me, these people haven't had that. I'm not sure which is worse, that you can be born into a world where no one cares that you've died, or that someone you care about can go missing and you spend your life waiting for them to return, wondering where they are , when in fact they are dead, lying in a mortuary somewhere.
That was the the first and last time I visited that area of the website. I can't bring myself to go back there. It makes me think too much of the things we take as a given in our lives and too angry that this can happen in a supposedly civilised nation.
Most of all, I feel so sad for those people. They have been denied in death something we all take for granted in life: an identity and the dignity that comes with it.