There is a saying that “time heals all wounds”.
But for Helen Bergendahl, the passage of time has done little to heal the heartbreak of losing her mother six years ago.
Bergendahl, who lives in Sweden, has never returned to Trinidad and Tobago since her mother’s disappearance.
She says it is too painful to come back to the place where her mother was taken from her.
Bergendahl is the daughter of missing lecturer Glenda Charles-Harris.
Charles-Harris, who chaired the department of Environmental Studies at the College of Science Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago (COSTAATT), disappeared on July 27, 2015.
She was last seen at Tru Valu Supermarket in Diamond Vale, Diego Martin.
The 78-year-old woman’s car was found abandoned at Indian Walk, Princes Town, the following day.
She seemed to have vanished and to date there have been no clues as to what may have happened to her.
Bergendahl said the pain of losing her mother and not knowing what happened to her still weighs heavily on her.
“To deal with a disappearance of a mother in such a manner, where we are not able to get any closure, I think is one of the most difficult things that any of us will ever have to deal with,” she told the Sunday Express.
She said her life has been permanently altered as a result.
“It is very difficult, and to go back to anything that I was before is close to impossible.”
Bergendahl said even speaking to people about the experience is difficult because she feels like few people understand what she is going through.
“Other people who have gone through a similar experience understand and those are the ones I can talk to about this. But people that have not experienced anything like this, it is very, very difficult to talk about. Because I think in their need of trying to comfort, they hurt (me) even more.”
But she said she continues to speak out via the media, in the hope that her mother will not be forgotten.
“It brings me hope that the story about my mother has not disappeared,” she said. “I am eternally grateful for all of you that keep the story alive because it gives us hope that we might get some closure.”
Even though six years have passed with no new details on Charles-Harris’s disappearance, Bergendahl says she is still holding on to hope.
“There is always a glimmer of hope that my mother will be found and that’s what I’m holding on to until proven otherwise. I think that’s the only way to go about it. The alternative is too difficult...it is difficult to think that thought and be able to not lose my mind,” she said. “I need to and I have to believe that my mother is still alive.”
But she said closure in the form of remains would still give her some peace.
She no longer thinks about catching those responsible for her mother’s disappearance or bringing them to justice.
“I’ve reached a place where all I would like to do is get my mother back and if that means that she is with or without life, I still think that they should give us the closure where we can give her the burial that she deserves and the respect that she deserves.
“She touched so many lives, she was such a kind person. She was so mild, kind and good-hearted. The least that we can ask for is to be able to put her to rest gracefully and to give us all closure,” she said.
Bergendahl said each year Charles-Harris’s family and friends gather to celebrate her life.
They hold memorial services, release lanterns, play her favourite music and reminisce about her life.
But she said returning to Trinidad and Tobago is not planned any time soon.
“It is way too painful. I am hoping I will be able to return one day but right now it is way too difficult,” she said.
An open wound ► sub-head ◄
The missing woman’s son, Klas Charles-Harris, said for him, too, the wound of his mother’s disappearance is still fresh.
“It is very much an open wound for the whole family,” he said, made worse by the fact that they have not received any communication or updates from the police.
He noted many persons in T&T have gone missing over the years and people still go missing frequently.
Charles-Harris is just one of hundreds of people who have disappeared without a trace in T&T over the years, many of them women.
Her son said each time he sees a new report, it triggers a fresh wave of pain.
“It tears open the wounds again and it is terrible that it is so frequent in this country now and it keeps happening and we are not putting up resources to combat the crimes against women,” he said.
Asked whether he had any advice for the families of other missing people on how they can cope, he said no.
“I am barely coping myself, so I am not in a position to advise anyone else,” he said.
Unlike his sister, he said he does not have any reason to believe his mother is still alive.
“I no longer have hope that she is alive but I am still hoping that we can get back her remains so we can give her a proper burial,” he said. “We just want to know where she is so we can give her a proper burial.”
He said the family has established a scholarship fund in Charles-Harris’s name and they have been working on other activities aimed at keeping her memory alive.
Police say Charles-Harris’s case is one of those being investigated by the Cold Case Unit.
Anyone with information can call 999 or any police station.
Anonymous reports can also be made at 800-TIPS, 555 or via the TTPS mobile app.