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When he disappears without a trace...

What do you do when the man you are madly in love with and happily married to, decides to go back packing in Australia for 3 months... and never comes back?

Mary Monaghan tells in her book, “Who do you belong to?” about her search for her lost husband and what happened afterwards...

Mary met her husband in a bar in 1980. John’s good looks immediately swept her off her feet.

“He was tall, with an open face and an easy smile.”

He was 17 and she was 23. A few years later she moved with him to South-Africa to enjoy the sun, open spaces and bush. In 1985 they got married and bought a house.
“We had the perfect life, a happy marriage, a business that flourished, good friends and no shortage of money. I liked my life. The sun shone brightly over my life...”

In December 1992 John told her that the business was in trouble. He had decided to close the business, to go back packing in Australia for 3 months and then to start a new life by restoring old houses when he came back.

“I remember going to the garden after he had told me the news. I wandered around aimlessly, seeing none of the beauty around me. I tried to make sense of it all. How could he make this decision without me? It wasn’t right! In spite of the sunshine, I felt a dark cloud descend over me.”

In the time that followed, John was irritated and nervous. Little things, like too much sugar in his coffee would make him furious. Mary had however decided to be supportive and helped him pack. Nigel, his best friend, drove him to the airport (he didn’t want a tearful farewell, he said) and John asked Nigel to keep an eye on Mary while he was away and to make sure she was ok.

The idea that she was not going to see her husband for 3 months was very traumatic for Mary. They had agreed to have minimal contact as John was going to be in a remote part of Australia. But in the months to follow Mary realized how serious their financial problems were.

“I was forced to sell our beautiful home. I had already bought a rundown house but had no money to renovate it. The house became like a prison to me. I was ashamed of its appearance and I didn’t even invite my friends over.”

No word from John. For nine months Mary went to the airport every week when the weekly flight from Australia was to land. She would dress nicely for the occasion and wanted to surprise him... just to realize he was not there.

She got an Australian visa in case the private investigators found him and she had to go in a hurry. Every time it expired and each time she had to renew it...

Mary tried to keep things a float by farming with chickens on a farm that they owned. This had already been on the market for months, with no potential buyers. She battled along. She heard from his parents every now and again, they also had no contact with him. Everyone was so worried. Nobody had heard from him and his disappearance was a mystery.

“I got the help of private investigators and Interpol to help look for him, but without success.”

Mary’s situation got better when she got a good post as a manager at a company that does credit control. All the responsibility and pressure helped to take her mind off her missing husband.

Four years later she got a divorce and annulment through the Catholic Church. She didn’t want to believe the marriage was over and tried to make sense of everything, but her decision was confirmed when years later Nigel admitted that John had gone to Australia with another woman, Tamsyn – an Australian lady that he had met while doing contact work in Richards Bay!

When the annulment was finalised it helped Mary to move on, but she didn’t stop her search for John – she had too many questions!

She was transferred to Cape Town and started her new life in Grotto bay in the Cape west coast. Just after Christmas, 1998, Elizabeth, John’s aunt phoned Mary. From 1997 (the year he eventually made contact with his parents) she had looked for an address and telephone number for him. His parents didn’t want to make the information available to Mary, but Elizabeth was determined to help. In the mean time Mary had published her first book Remember Me?

She lived her own life, and had grown as a person and woman. She met many men and travelled. When she went back to Ireland for a book release, she decided to look up Elizabeth too. It was in the town where John had grown up. Mary had taken extra copies for a book shop called A Novel Idea. She and Elizabeth agreed to meet there. Because everyone had known John and wanted to read the story, there was a great need for more books.

Without any warning her eyes fell on the man she had been searching for so many years. John walked out in front of Elizabeth...

“I froze in my tracks, brought my hands to my face and stood still in shock. John walked towards me. I turned my back to him and stood rooted to that spot. I didn’t move, I didn’t speak, and I didn’t know what to do. I was stunned. There he was, John, the same as he always looked: older naturally, but still the same John I fell in love with so many years ago.”

He said: “Hello Mary.”

She couldn’t speak, her body felt like rock. Elizabeth broke the ice and suggested they go to a hotel to talk. She said she would join them in a moment. In those moments Mary felt dead.

John began to explain that he came home to visit his parents and saw his face in all the newspapers. That people came to ask him: “Remember Me?” (The title of Mary’s first book) and he felt as if he had to answer to a crime.

They made small talk, without confronting the real issue. He had decided to come and surprise her after he heard she was going to be at the book shop.

Here is a short part out of Mary’s book about how the discussion went after floods of emotion overcame her often: “I thought you were over me,” he said. “That you had moved on.”

“I did,” I answered. “But to see you, brings all the pain back.”

“I never meant to hurt you, it was just so difficult. You have no idea how bad things were for me. I wanted to make contact with you, but couldn’t. I picked up the phone so many times.”

“So why didn’t you?”

“It was like a breakdown – I went into a black hole.”

“And you couldn’t write to me, just one line to say you weren’t coming back?”

“It wasn’t so simple; I didn’t know what to say.”

“Didn’t you realize what it did to me?”

“Naturally, I always knew. There‘s not a day that goes past when I don’t think of you.”

“But you could‘ve contacted me.”

“I know I should‘ve.”

“Why did you decide to come and see me today?”

“I had to; it was the right thing to do. My mother encouraged me. You were hard on my mother. She did what she thought was the best thing to do.”

“So it was right to know where you were, and according to her promise to me, to keep the information from me for more than a year?”

“She knows now that it was wrong. She read your book and told me I should see you.”

“I have a copy in the car. Will you read it?”

“I don’t know. I saw a psychologist in Australia after Tamsyn and I separated and she suggested I write a book about what happened between us.”

“Well I did it for you. It’s not cruel; to tell you the truth many people said I was too kind. It will give you an idea of how things were for me.”

“You didn’t write it cruelly, but I know I have become a hateful figure for many women.”

“Maybe you have, but it was never my intention.”

“It looks to me as if men feel different about things. Some came to me in a bar, shook my hand and said: Thank goodness there are still a few real men out there!”

He laughed at me.

She couldn’t believe it was the same man she had been married to. He was a stranger, somebody that didn’t feel bad about what he had done to her and felt in a perverse way that it justified his manhood.

“It was this man that had hurt me so badly, whom I loved so much. I sat opposite him at the table and didn’t even want to touch his hand. I had no need to touch him. How could this be the man I felt so much passion for? We were so close and yet so far from each other.”

Elizabeth called her, a friend wanted to take a photo with her.

Back at the table John told about his business dealings in Uruguay. She mentioned that there may be a film.

“So, who is going to play me?” he asked.

“Who knows,” Mary answered.

“I think it must be Brad Pitt,” he said.

She could see that he was serious and that it didn’t bother him at all that the movie would be made from their story...

Mary excused herself and John promised to stay in touch.

“Where have I heard that before?” asked Mary.

He promised that he would make contact within the next month and they swapped business cards. She walked away and started scraping her thoughts together...

At that stage a television interview was scheduled for her but shortly before the interview she informed the interviewers that she had had contact with John. The newspaper coverage that followed was overwhelming! This kept her very busy.

That day of their meeting, John promised to stay in contact. He did call her, and the memories of her pain made her sad again. It was a way for him to pacify his conscience and to move on, but she decided that day that he would never have that kind of influence on her ever again.

Today Mary is a writer with four books to her name. She is a strong, independent, happy woman knowing she’s nobody’s property.

“My journey to find John was also a journey to find myself.”

Mary’s advice to Intimacy4Us readers who have lost somebody they love:
“One of the most important things that made me able to move on with my life, was to look what happened in the eye and not to allow it destroy my life. While I was terribly hurt and heart sore, I made a conscious decision to give John and men in general the benefit of the doubt. Yes, he did a terrible thing, to disappear without telling me that he was never going to come back, but I refused to become bitter and afraid of all men as a result of this. It’s important to keep a positive attitude, to be open to new experiences and not to allow one bad experience to over shadow my life.

“Life is different to what it always was. I connected to family and friends; they were a huge source of support. I started a new life, travelled and experienced new things. You have the choice to be overwhelmed by what happened or to see it as a new opportunity. I chose the positive, became my own person – without any regret or bitterness. I embrace my new life with its endless opportunities and the joy everyday brings.”

To order Mary’s books, visit