In the more than 100 days since her husband disappeared along with Malaysia Airlines, Flight 370, Zhang Qian’s world has collapsed. She quit her job, sleeps rarely and prefers not to go out, except to the Buddhist temples where she has found some solace. “At the temple, I can speak from my heart to my husband”, Zhang, 28, said on a recent visit to the Temple of Spiritual Light in the western hills of Beijing. She broke down in sobs before continuing. “I think he can hear me … I have so much to tell him, there is so much I have not said. I hope the Buddha will carry those words to him and bring him back.”
Much of the world has moved on from the frenzied interest in the mysterious March 8 disappearance of the plane, but relatives of the 239 people missing cannot. Satellite data shows that the plane went down in a remote area of the southern Indian Ocean far from any land, but with no trace of the aircraft recovered, many cling to a flicker of hope, however faint, that their loved ones might still be alive.
“It may be my fantasy, but what if one day he sends some distress signals and he gets saved, and that will be the end of this?”, Zhang said. Her husband was among 153 Chinese on the plane. Chinese culture places an especially heavy emphasis on finding and seeing the remains of people believed dead before true grieving and the process of moving on can begin.
The absence of proof of death has made closure elusive for all relatives, said Lawrence Palinkas, professor of social work at the University of Southern California. “When there is no physical proof of death, it is easier to remain in (denial) for a much longer period of time”, he said. “At this point, those who have not accepted the possibility that the plane crashed and all aboard were lost are relying on extended family and friends to maintain the belief that family members are still alive, or that hope is still viable until the remains are found.”
Liu Weijie held onto his wife’s plane ticket for a U.S. trip in late May for more than two months, even though she was among the Flight 370 passengers. They were supposed to go to their son’s graduation ceremony. He returned the ticket three days before the flight, and canceled his own trip as well.
In messages posted to a mobile phone blog, Liu apologized to his wife for not allowing her to visit their son earlier. “I truly regret that I did not let you visit your son during the Chinese New Year. Now it’s been nine months since you last saw your son”, he wrote.
“The sense of helplessness, the feeling of powerlessness, continued…