The Year I Found My Brother (Almost)

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2016 was going to be the year I found my brother. All the signs were there: media coverage, sightings and appeals. But with only 11 days left, my goal is looking unlikely. I know things can change within the blink of an eye — he could lift the receiver and dial — but as the start of 2017 beckons, what I thought would be the best year EVER is ending in a painful failure.

Yesterday was pre-Christmas Sunday. My parents came to have lunch and open presents before they depart on a holiday cruise over the festive period. I don’t think they can face another Christmas at home with their son missing. This is our 13th year without Christian.

As they left to go, I had to hold back the tears: I hate it when they go abroad as it feels like I’m the only one left, abandoned. Orphaned, and siblingless. It’s a ridiculous fear, I know. I’m 42 years old, for goodness sake. I have a lovely husband, two lively children who keep me entertained and a faithful black Labrador — I’m far from alone. But my brother disappeared while travelling, so the fear of being (permanently) left behind is present until they return to British shores.

One thing was different this ‘Christmas’. Dad didn’t propose a toast to Christian. I only realised when they’d gone. Had we just forgotten amid the chaos created by excited, squealing grandchildren or was there a deeper reason? Flash back to last Boxing Day, 2015, I walked with Dad around the sodden wheat fields near their home and I was strangely upbeat about finding Christian in the coming year, but Dad less so. “I think that if Christian isn’t found by next New Year then I’m going to give up hope. All this uncertainly is just too painful,” he told me.

I don’t want to go into too much detail, because Dad is a very private person, but riding the rollercoaster of searching for a missing son, for so long, has taken its toll. Hope is the candle which keeps you from the dark. But that candle has flickered, guttered and rekindled itself so often that it’s exhausted us all. Is it now time, with the New Year deadline approaching, when we should all give up? How long should you wait for someone missing to reconnect?

Renewed Hope

My renewed hope of finding Christian this year (2016) became a possibility when in March, on Mothering Sunday, we received some news (after 13 years of no news) which indicated he was still alive and possibly in East Africa. He had originally gone missing in Mali in March 2003, while following in the footsteps of the Scottish explorer, Mungo Park. (See the full story here, thanks to Jamie Maddison of Love Nature)

There were plenty of question marks surrounding this sudden brotherly ‘appearance’, but with social media behind me and a determination which surprised me, I took the lead and ran with it… for six months. I didn’t stop. Arrow locked onto target. There was nothing I wasn’t going to do to get back my brother: UK newspaper articles/features/appeals, TV appeals, Facebook, Twitter, appeals via the Lucie Blackman Trust and Missing People charity, pleading with owners of Kenyan newspapers to get discounted advertising rates. Even while I was on holiday, with intermittent Internet access, I battled on.

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In many ways I was not allowed to stop searching, because every time the trail went cold and I thought the media/public interest would wane, something happened to slam Christian back into the centre of my world. I could not stop the search if I’d wanted to; it had a rolling energy of its own. The final sighting of Christian was in the centre of Nairobi in May 2015.

I was so convinced I’d find him that I pushed everyone who questioned my theory, my strategy and my sanity away. If they didn’t support me, then I had to keep them at arms’ length. My parents and I fell out several times.

But now, in the last throws of December, I can do no more. Well, I could, but I think I’m emotionally spent and physically grounded. I’ve done everything in my power to reach Christian, and I’m sure he has seen the appeals, but if he doesn’t want to come forward, for whatever reason, then I can’t force him. Even if I didn’t have family and a business, I could gather all my reserves of bravery and travel to Kenya to search for him on the ground, but in the end what would this achieve if he doesn’t want to be found? My fear is that I would be setting myself up for disappointment.

Was I the good sister I thought I was? I know we rarely saw each other, but surely that strong childhood bond would see us through? Believe me, self-doubt kills you inside.

Damage limitation

I’ve been in damage-limitation mode since September when the public search fell (mainly) silent; I’ve been finding new ways of coping with the stress while waiting for Christian to come forward. There must be a reason for this years’ struggle; you’re supposed to learn from challenges, aren’t you? I’ve cherry-picked, for example, from Buddhism, Stoicism, Spiritualism. Worry and stress is a self-imposed emotional state, say many. Solution: Stay in the present. Live in The Now. Meditate. Do Yoga/Exercise. Trust the Universe. These strategies have carried me through for months, quelling my constant thoughts about Christian and instead concentrating on daily life and things I CAN control. Life has been easier — the pain has blurred.

I’ve also had therapy to forgive Christian for leaving me behind and ‘re-written’ a subconscious false belief that he won’t return, in the hope that with my anger now dissipated, my true love for Christian will somehow reach him and he will return the unconditional love.

But there’s still this grief. Only today I burst into tears while driving, prompted by a particular song chosen by iPhone shuffle. Despite all my hard work in searching for Christian this year, I haven’t been rewarded. I feel entitled to find him! I feel I deserve to find him!

But you can’t hit your head repeatedly without damage… earlier this month I nearly convinced myself that an Australian tourist walking barefoot in Nairobi, gaining fame as #JesusInNairobi, was Christian. I knew I had to protect myself from further hurt.

But what should my 2017 goal be now? To keep searching for my brother? How do you get someone to come forward when you feel you’ve done everything in your power to cajole them? It’s so sad to admit, but I feel I’m flogging the proverbial dead horse and despite still believing Christian will get in touch I can see people are starting to avoid me so they don’t have to ask about Christian — searching for him has become what defines me. I have become the sad soul no one knows how to deal with — it might be all in my head, but I’m sure people are avoiding me because Christmas is supposed to be a happy time when nothing should be able to dampen spirits, no? I don’t want to continue with my victim-of-circumstances status.

In a few days’ time I will put on the brave face for the real Christmas Day when, with relief, I will be escaping to Scotland to spend time with my husband’s family where Christian seems totally removed. Peace for my mind. But what about a week later when I return to normal life?

I have tried to be brave. I have been vulnerable and probably too honest. I have tried to be strong. But I have to let go the stuggle and just let it be. If Christian comes forward then I will be the happiest sister in the world, but I cannot influence his decision any more. Perhaps someone else can take over the mantle and persuade him?

2016 hasn’t been a good year for so many and I honestly thought I’d be able to buck the trend, but I haven’t been able to solve the struggle which has dominated my year. However, I can take away some positives: the renewed search for Christian occurred thanks to the kindness of many strangers, from all over the world. There have been magical moments — amazing coincidences which I cannot explain, such as the Ghanaian lady who met Christian as a beggar in 2005. I have also connected with others going through the same nightmare of a missing loved one… I know this Christmas that, sadly, I’m not alone in wanting the phone to ring with good news. I’ve also learnt new social media skills this year, such as my now full-evolved ‘bull-shit detector’ thanks to multiple false sighting, false promises and corruption/bribery.

All I can say is that it’s been one hell of a year. One I will never forget. The year my hope of finding Christian was reignited. I fought hard and never missed an opportunity. Hope continues… but the search is on the back-burner where I cannot be scalded.

N.B: I haven’t been motivated to write Christmas cards this year so have donated instead to the Lucie Blackman Trust and Missing People. Please support them, if you feel moved.

Searching for Chris Velten Facebook page

Spiritual Grief Healer, Writer & Speaker. Working with my brother-in-Spirit, Christian, to inspire and empower grievers to fly free. www.hannahvelten.online

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