Stop and pause for a few moments and consider the following: Imagine your wife missing. Imagine your mother missing. Imagine your sister missing. Imagine your daughter missing.
Imagine the turmoil and torment that every day in the dark, not knowing where a loved one may be, must feel like.
Imagining is one thing – but contending with such a scenario on a day-to-day basis is an altogether different and devastating attack on the senses.
The soul shudders at the prospect of trying to come to terms with such an appalling reality for weeks, for months, for years.
For Donal and Gerry Keenan, along with their six siblings, many of their waking moments over the past 16 years have included a recurring question composed of just five simple words. Where is our sister Imelda?
On January 3rd 1994, Imelda Keenan, then aged 22, was last seen on Lombard Street, just a short stroll from her William Street flat.
What became of this shy young woman thereafter remains a mystery, one that has baffled investigating Gardaí and left, as Donal put it to me recently, “a family in limbo”.
The Keenan family’s upset is an emotional nightmare shared by the Dollards, the Penders, the Sinnotts and the Jacobs to name but four.
The disappearance of these young women, primarily in the midlands area (where Imelda herself was originally from) has resonated deeply with families all over the country.
There but for the grace of God, it could be my sister or yours who disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again.
A website devoted to missing Irish people contains the names and photos of 72 individuals whose whereabouts have yet to be established. To run through the list provides a frightening reminder of the appalling vista facing six dozen households.
Walk over Lombard Street Bridge any day now and a plaque erected by Imelda’s family in December 2008 reminds you of her disappearance. At this location at the very least, it means she will never be forgotten.
“The Gardaí have been a great support to us,” Donal added. “They’ve kept the file on Imelda open all of these years and are anxious to have this case resolved. They’re as mystified about what happened as we are.”
What’s most upsetting about Imelda’s case, and indeed in the case of all disappeared persons, is that someone out there, maybe doing their shopping, maybe dropping their kids to school, working on a site, etc, knows something.
Even more chilling, the person responsible for Imelda’s disappearance is out there, possibly among us; doing all the mundane things that life throws at you.
And that sense of frustration, of anger, of injustice, would gnaw away at even the most stout-hearted among us.
A dreadful wrong has been exacted upon ordinary, decent people, thrust into the media spotlight due to the truly awful reality they have to face every day.
“In the fortnight after Imelda went missing, I fully expected that her body would be taken out of the Suir, found in The People’s Park or somewhere out in the county,” said her brother Gerry.
“But nothing – not a shred of clothing, a shoe or a strand of DNA – has ever, ever been found that could have led to establishing what happened to Imelda.”
Did Gerry believe that Imelda, now 16 years missing, was dead?
“If we thought like that every day since she disappeared, I think a few of us would have condemned ourselves to early graves by now,” he said.
“With no evidence suggesting that the only outcome of this case will be the discovery of a body, you can’t abandon hope completely.”
Holding onto hope has probably kept the Keenans going for 16 years. Hoping for some new information on their beloved sister’s whereabouts is the very least that they are entitled to. After all, without hope, what do any of us have?
If you have any information about Imelda’s disappearance, please contact Waterford Gardaí on 051-305300 or call the confidential Garda line on 1800-666-111