The Agony of Losing a Loved one, When they’re not Officially Gone

Almost a decade after her husband went missing, a simple trip to collect the mail can prompt anxiety for Zee Meyer.

Every few months a bank statement arrives still bearing the name of her missing husband, Warren.

“It’s a torment really, and there’s no way you can get off the merry-go-round unless someone steps in to help you,” she said.

Warren Meyer smiles at the camera.

“It’s haunting to have his name there for almost 10 years, popping up in the letter box.”

Warren Meyer went hiking near Healesville on Easter Sunday in 2008. The 57-year-old has not been seen since.

His family believe he was murdered, perhaps after coming across a drug plantation.

They might never know for sure what happened to him.

But the uncertainty doesn’t end there. Despite the passing of a decade, a death certificate has not been issued.

“Without a death certificate often you can’t close out things such as names on a bank account,” she said.

“Every year I have to advise the ATO that Warren won’t be filling out a tax form.”

It took eight years to settle the life insurance.

‘Show some compassion’

Families of missing persons, particularly the long-term missing, face administrative and bureaucratic hurdles that exacerbate their grief.

Loren O’Keeffe took on the Melbourne Cricket Club in 2015, after it refused to pause the membership of her brother Daniel who went missing in 2011.

Daniel O'Keeffe

“It’s infuriating for families to have that same conversation every quarter, every six months, with the same entity whether it be the electoral roll or the MCC or the financial institution that a couple has for their mortgage,” Ms O’Keeffe said.

“It’s extremely stressful for the ones who are left behind to deal with it.”

The MCC would not budge.

Daniel O’Keeffe’s remains were found in 2016.

Since 2013, Ms O’Keeffe has run the Missing Persons Advocacy Network as a tribute to him.

MPAN provides hands-on support and advice to other families as they deal with the search for their loved ones, but also the overdue bills, car or mortgage payments, electoral obligations and other tasks on behalf of the missing.

Ms O’Keeffe said governments, agencies and private businesses needed to better understand what families went through.

“There is an opportunity for them to show some compassion to their clients and either suspend accounts or give them some sort of leeway given the extenuating circumstances that the family is dealing with,” she said.

“I think it’ll be a huge help in lessening that burden for families that are left behind.”

She’d also like to see nationally consistent laws. In New South Wales for example, a missing person case can be referred to the coroner after 12 months which can speed up the process.

“With 100 Australians going missing every single day, thousands of long-term families are left behind with the very real and practical struggles.”

Potential sightings come with huge cost

Ms O’Keeffe quit her job to find her brother, a search that took her to Brisbane after a potential sighting there.

She spent thousands on flights, accommodation, printing, a telephone hotline and other services. Some families pay for their own searches — divers, dogs, drones — once the police search inevitably ends.

“The financial impact for many families can be just as devastating as the emotional and phycological damage of having a loved one missing,” Ms O’Keefe said.

Warren Meyer’s parents have passed away in the past year, further adding to the frustration at how long it has taken to resolve his affairs.

Zee Meyer at home

“His mum’s will can’t be fulfilled at the moment because I don’t have a death certificate,” Zee Meyer said

“The amount of money she’s leaving for Warren can’t be finalised due to this fact, and it means the other family members can’t access their portion as well.”

Ms Meyer still takes regular walks along the waterfront in Melbourne’s south, just as she did with her husband Warren a decade ago.

As she stares out to sea she can’t help wondering when she’ll be able to erect a memorial to him.

The Meyer family is offering a $200,000 reward for anyone who might have information that might solve the mystery.

“That’s how desperate families are for answers,” Loren O’Keeffe said.

Zee Meyer on Melbourne's southern shore where she and husband Warren used to enjoy walking.