Please help me track down my missing brother
November 26, 2015 7:24 PM   Subscribe

My brother has been out of touch with the family for like six months, not returning calls or emails or picking up his physical mail. But, his cell phone and work phone worked, so we were worried but not panicked. Yesterday I left him a voice mail at work that basically said if you don't call soon, I'm coming to Boston. Today, his cell was disconnected. Maybe the two events are connected, maybe not, but I'm freaked out. I don't have any friends in Boston.

He's never been good about keeping in touch, so this is more like an extreme version of the usual. Our family is prone to depression and withdrawal, and he mentioned feeling some depression when we were together at Christmas. He lives alone and is about 40.

However, he's always been a last minute planner and I honestly thought it was plausible-to-likely that he'd call Wednesday morning and say "I'm hopping on a plane to visit for Thanksgiving and will land in three hours. Can you pick me up?" Didn't happen.

And now the phone's not working. What are some practical steps I can take to track him down, either remotely or in person

I can go to Boston and camp out by his apartment, which hopefully he still lives in. What if he's not there; I have no idea what a next step would be? I could get a professional connection to try dropping by, weird, but cheaper and could be done sooner.

How do you pick a private detective? What are expected rates? What are reasonable expectations? Will they behave like Jessica Jones? [OK, maybe not on that last one, I hope.]

Call the police? Social service agencies?

Any other ideas?
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons to Human Relations (33 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Does he have a social media presence at all? I would recommend looking him up on Facebook and contacting one of his Boston friends to ask if he is okay. It will be weird and invasive, but at least you'll have the peace of mind.

Does he know you just want to know he is okay? If you do find a way to contact him directly, maybe let him know that you just want to know he's alive and okay and if he just wants to be left alone you'll respect that (assuming you will, which you should). I know in some places the cops will also check in and report back if the person is okay and just doesn't want to be contacted, so that's another way to get your peace of mind. Not sure if they'll do that in every state, though.
posted by Autumn at 7:34 PM on November 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yikes- are you me? My brother (and me. long story) has a very similar demographic/behavior pattern. We're all "close as cats" and generally bad at IRL sociability. Ditto Autumn's social media thoughts- friends, workmates, interests, clubs, Linkedin, former doctors? Maybe check his name against his address, too. Good wishes to you both-
posted by JulesER at 7:42 PM on November 26, 2015


You can have the police do a wellness check. It will probably piss your brother off, but at least you'll know that he's okay.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:43 PM on November 26, 2015 [35 favorites]


Not sure if the police will do it in all US states but you can get wellness checks done. They will basically check he's OK. They will not give you confirmation of addresses or reasons as to why they don't want to contact you, if he informs then that he does not want any further contact with you they should follow his requests. They will protect his privacy. I believe you have to have at least a vague reason to believe the behavior of not contacting you is unusual.

Having said all that I've seen Wellness checks used as a tool to try & control an exwife, I have also used one to check on my diabetic mother when I couldn't contact her from another country. The police were very nice about it. If your relationship with your brother is tenuous at best, this could aggravate the situation, but probably no more so than PI's or strangers turning up at his door.
posted by wwax at 7:48 PM on November 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


Thank you for the thoughts - I will do the wellness check tomorrow.

Truly, I don't want to be invasive - just want to make sure he's ok. Functioning normally, not paralyzed with depression or homeless or ... worse. I see this withdrawal as a symptom of a problem.

Unfortunately, he stopped using facebook several years ago but I will check with his friends - we share some of the childhood ones.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 8:02 PM on November 26, 2015


His cell phone coincidentally got cut off the day after you left a (probably fairly intense-sounding) message at his work? Was that public or did it go to his direct line? I'm very sorry to suggest or even think it, but I wonder whether maybe it wasn't cut… maybe he's been trying to keep his distance, and actually blocked you? Though I don't know what one would hear if they were blocked and called a line. If that's a possibility - write him an email with a big SORRY in the subject line, apologize for maybe having crossed a line (if that's how he sees it?), and explain that you're worried about him because you haven't heard from him in ages, and just want to know he's ok, and ask him to just reply with one word, if that's the case. If you're willing and able to help, if he's in trouble, maybe mention that too.

I'm not going to guess at the dynamics beyond that, but if I were worried about a family member who I thought might suffer from a mental illness, and suspected might not be functional, who dropped off the face of the earth, I would totally just go to their place (after business hours). If they weren't there, I'd go to their work the next day. I'd think about any people they mentioned being in their lives recently (last time I spoke with them) and try to get in touch with them.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:39 PM on November 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


His cell phone coincidentally got cut off the day after you left a (probably fairly intense-sounding) message at his work?

Yeah, big obvious sign that he has no interest in interacting with you directly. Contact the police, have them check up and stay out of it after that unless your brother contacts you on his own accord.
posted by paulcole at 9:02 PM on November 26, 2015 [9 favorites]


Can you call a receptionist at his place of work?
posted by halogen at 9:54 PM on November 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


He's a competent adult, yes? You have no specific reason to think he's hurt/dead/suicidal/experienced foul play? And you have reason to believe he might be intentionally withdrawing from you based on his past behavior and based on him possibly disconnecting his phone after your message?

If I have all of that right, the absolute most you should do is call the police and ask them to do a welfare check on him at home. And you should only do that if you're truly worried about his safety.

Do not "camp out by his apartment". That is well into stalker territory. Do not call/visit/have someone else visit his workplace! To broadcast his personal life to professional associates will not endear you to him and may put the nail in the coffin of your relationship if he's on the fence about ever contacting you again.

Respect your brother's autonomy. Just because you're upset he hasn't contacted you doesn't give you the right to go impose yourself on him. Just because he's depressed doesn't mean he loses the right to decide who he communicates with. He doesn't have an obligation to contact you just because you want him to or just because he's a sibling.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 10:09 PM on November 26, 2015 [40 favorites]


Yeah, sorry - my 2nd paragraph was more theoretical but also highly context-dependent - as in, that's what I'd do (in my particular family, with our particular norms) if the relationship were basically in good shape prior to the lack of contact, all signs pointed to a fairly severe problem, and our shared history led me to believe I might succeed in re-establishing contact with a hope of a positive outcome (for them).

I thought it at least possible that something similar might be the case for you (maybe because he'd opened up to you at Christmas; you seemed to think it entirely likely that he'd parachute in (with a request for a pickup, etc); and lack of contact is close to normal for him…).

I agree with others that if you think he might have issues with you - whether you think they'd be founded or not - taking the softest approach you can would be best, because if he does need not emergency but urgentish assistance, and takes your approach as hostile, trust will go and your ability to help him will be compromised. Barring an emergency, you can only help him with his consent, all you can do is work with him. (If he does need help.)

A wellness check… will tell you if he's alive on the day of the wellness check, but might alienate him, if his thinking's well on the way to distorted. In my family, popping by, which might offer the chance to make a little bridge, or offer room for a light moment, would be much less invasive than involving outside authorities (or hiring a detective). In other words, I think it all depends :/

Can you elaborate a bit on your relationship and norms? Might give people a better understanding of what "invasive" might mean, here.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:25 PM on November 26, 2015


Our relationship and norms....I would say that we rarely talk on the phone, mostly getting updates via our parents. When we're in person, we fall into an adult version of our childhood relationship, which has always been positive, but not particularly close, because we are several years apart. He's funny, great with my kids, plays a mean game of rummy, and is a pleasure to spend time with. But, since I had kids, we haven't visited him. I don't know his current friends (if any?) and he doesn't mention specific ones. We've just become more distant.

I worry about him because... My parents are here for the week, and they are very worried because they haven't heard from him in months, not even a message saying I'm ok. My mother is particularly anxious about it (and life generally). So far as I know, he's never had a relationship with a girl (or guy) and doesn't seem to have a "best friend" that comes up in conversation. He is pretty overweight, and in keeping with our family is generally reserved and probably lonely. I worry because he mentioned that depression causes him to withdraw, so I interpret this withdrawal as likely depression. He has one of those jobs that takes all the time you can give it - nights and weekends included. I worry because he's the kind of quiet unassuming person who could fall through the cracks. And what if that's happening, and I just go happily along with my life while his is disintegrating?

Though it's not completely true, I also feel like my parents are ineffectual and not good at navigating the world so it's kind of my job. As an example, two days ago my mother discovered she'd forgotten her medication when they flew up to visit. My dad said "oh, that's a problem" and wandered off. My mother panicked and dithered. I called the doctor and pharmacies and arranged to get a short term supply. So clearly, it falls on me, the oldest child, to be the fixer when M&D don't know what to do. And they don't and are very worried. (Yes, I know that's a little self important.)
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 12:10 AM on November 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Truly, I don't want to be invasive - just want to make sure he's ok. Functioning normally, not paralyzed with depression or homeless or ... worse. I see this withdrawal as a symptom of a problem.

Him continuing employment and keeping a cell phone is indicative of him not being homeless.

For whatever reason that may not have been mentioned here, he is making it very clear that he does not want you in his life right now.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:53 AM on November 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


I would say that we rarely talk on the phone, mostly getting updates via our parents. When we're in person, we fall into an adult version of our childhood relationship, which has always been positive, but not particularly close . . .

Though it's not completely true, I also feel like my parents are ineffectual and not good at navigating the world so it's kind of my job. . .

IANAT but your family dynamic sounds unhealthy in a very similar way to that of my own. I have had problems with depression leading to withdrawl and strained relationships with family leading to me not communicating with them, and in fact my sister was the one who took on the duty of contacting me. I'm definitely projecting some of my own family stuff onto this situation but what you've shared resonates with my experience and I felt like I should give some advice.

I would think over doing the welfare check unless you seriously consider he may be in danger of harming himself. Police showing up at my door for any reason ever would kind of freak me out, especially in a bad mental health state, and if he's doing anything illegal you could be opening a huge can of worms for him. Can you think of a way to contact him through his workplace that wouldn't be too invasive? Attempting contact through mutual childhood friends sounds to me like a good idea as long as you remain respectful of those friends' boundaries in addition to your brother's. If you do make contact with your brother and resolve this, you may want to figure out with him a semi-regular way to communicate directly (not through your parents) and be clear that he doesn't have to stay "positive," that he can tell you if things aren't going well even if he doesn't want to detail how exactly.
posted by 3urypteris at 1:07 AM on November 27, 2015 [9 favorites]


I would contact all mutual acquaintances first before even considering involving the police. I would also fly to Boston and knock on his door when you think he's most likely to be home before sending the police.

Maybe the police shouldn't be involved at all, but if you disagree it should at least be the last resort.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 4:21 AM on November 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


If he doesn't want to be bothered, don't bother him or threaten to show up. It's stalker-ish and likely causing him more stress. If he didn't show up at work, they'd get in touch with his emergency contact who would probably call you/get in touch with you.

Catastrophizing as a means to force your presence where it is not wanted is not the right thing to do. He's a 40 yr old functioning adult with a job and apt. Leave him be. And I say this as someone who has had to deal with a histrionic family of origin who uses catastrophizing to violate boundaries. I've found it manipulative and another reason why I remain distant and can't trust them.
posted by discopolo at 4:51 AM on November 27, 2015 [20 favorites]


Today, his cell was disconnected.

I use Google Voice and I can easily make it so that my phone plays a "not longer a working number" recording to anyone I want. I would send a simple text to his cell phone number along the lines of "tried to call yesterday. Miss you. Kids were asking about you at T-Giving. Please reply just to let me know all is ok or if there is anything I can do."
posted by AugustWest at 5:37 AM on November 27, 2015 [12 favorites]


If you're reasonably sure that your brother is okay, and just not wanting to communicate with the family, then leave him alone. Tell your parents, "George is a grown man, if he wants to speak with you he will."

If you want to set your mind at ease, call his employer's HR department and tell them, "I'm verifying employment, can you confirm that George Smith is employed with you?" They'll either say yes or no. It's sneaky, but you can set your mind at ease that he's still at his job. It's none of your business really, but if you're absolutely out of your mind with worry, it's something.

Your brother doesn't owe anyone in the family a relationship, and laying on the guilt with, 'we're worried about you,' doesn't help people with depression.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:05 AM on November 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


If you do contact him, I'd suggest an amendment to AugustWest's message. Don't say "Miss you. Kids were asking about you." To someone who is keeping his distance, that just sounds like guilt-tripping and an attempt to draw him closer despite him clearly signalling that's not what he wants.

Keep it to something that makes it clear you're intending to respect his boundaries and just want a brief word from him to reassure you he's alive and well... perhaps adding that if your parents receive that assurance they will be less likely to keep trying to contact him (if that is indeed the case).

That said, I know I would also be tempted to turn up on the doorstep. Good luck - this sounds really tough.
posted by penguin pie at 6:13 AM on November 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


"If you want to set your mind at ease, call his employer's HR department and tell them, "I'm verifying employment, can you confirm that George Smith is employed with you?" They'll either say yes or no. It's sneaky, but you can set your mind at ease that he's still at his job."

It might not be good for his employment status if you make them think you're his next prospective employer doing a reference check.
posted by tel3path at 6:36 AM on November 27, 2015 [30 favorites]


- Please don't contact his job or his friends or the police. All three are highly invasive.

- I also thought he was using an app to block you, although he very well may have changed phones without telling his family.

- I wonder what your parents know that they are not telling??


What are you prepared to do if your brother is in trouble, both practically and financially? Have you thought that through? I imagine hiring a PI is your most non-invasive route, and yet, it will probably be a deal breaker if your deception is discovered by your brother. I know there are large firms that do this type of work, they will likely be expensive but more ethical. I doubt this is an unusual request and you can give it a shot if you need to.

You could also go to Boston and spy on him yourself. I dunno. This is very tough...

There's a 50/50 chance he's in trouble or crisis vs. he's voluntarily cutting his family out of his life. The problem is that you can't find out what's going on without invading his privacy. I know there are apps that disguise your phone number, you could try calling with a fake local number and hanging up if he answers. Or have a friend use a local number and pretend to be a wrong number (like a restaurant doing a delivery or something.)

I'd probably do a fake number and see if he picks up his phone before deciding what route to take. Good luck. Do no harm.
posted by jbenben at 6:43 AM on November 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


I worry about him because... My parents are here for the week, and they are very worried because they haven't heard from him in months, not even a message saying I'm ok.

This changes it, for me. For someone who has found it necessary to cut down or eliminate contact with family members-- and I've been in that spot-- this sort of triangulation can make them more apt to limit contact, not less. A family member who needs to know something should really step up and contact the person themselves. Otherwise you run the risk of making the person think everyone is sitting around talking about them. I might make an exception for older members who are really infirm and incapable but it doesn't sound like your parents are at that point. (And brokering contact in those situations is very fraught.) Also consider the message it sends your brother if you appear to be reaching out on your parents' behalf and not your own. If you do reach out, I really encourage it to do it on your own behalf, period.
posted by BibiRose at 7:34 AM on November 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


You all have given me a lot to think about.

I was surprised at how many people mentioned invasiveness - it hadn't occurred to me because I feel like such a terrible person for letting this go on so long. It'd be lot more comfortable to describe that as respecting his boundaries rather than moral failing. But is it right? Hmm. I'm thinking/feeling that one through.

I've thought about calling the ER department too, but haven't because of concerns about either triggering the job hunting concern or telling the truth and revealing problems that you don't really want ER to know.

I'm not computer savvy and didn't know about Google phone. confirming that he's blocking us out but still has a phone would be less worrying. Though troubling in a whole different way.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 7:39 AM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you want to set your mind at ease, call his employer's HR department and tell them, "I'm verifying employment, can you confirm that George Smith is employed with you?"

This is terrible advice. Do not involve his work, especially in ways that might make his work think he might be applying elsewhere, as t3l3path said above.
posted by winna at 8:52 AM on November 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


Well, if you call from a work phone, pay phone, or a friend's phone, you can at least find out if he's blocking you or if his phone is indeed disconnected.
posted by Slinga at 9:17 AM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Why are you freaking out today? Because your parents are, right? But really nothing has changed. If he'd newly severed contact that might be something but he's just made it more clear.

It's so hard but I think this in his hands as an adult.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:24 AM on November 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


Seconding warriorqueen - it sounds like you're letting your parents greatly influence how to interpret these events, and how to feel, and to what degree. If your mother is an anxious type (which you indicate) then this may be the latest way for her to seek reassurance for her general anxiety.

I would think long and hard about solving your parent's problems (e.g., the prescription) and functioning as their action-oriented selves, if that makes sense.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 9:58 AM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Why are you freaking out today? Because your parents are, right? But really nothing has changed. If he'd newly severed contact that might be something but he's just made it more clear.

It does sound like secondhand panic might have amped things up in an unfortunate way, but it's not 100% clear that he's severed contact vs. allowed a tendency to withdraw to get out of control because of depression, when he's actually confirmed feeling depressed and is behaving unusually. Depression distorts thinking patterns, and he definitely sounds like he's at risk.

If it's something in between, mostly in reaction to your parents, I agree with the idea that he might be suspicious of triangulation, and that if you reach out, it should be on your own behalf and that should be made clear.

He is an adult, of course; his will and boundaries should be respected. But if he's in trouble, and the two of you haven't had any issues other than distance, I don't think reaching out - on your own, carefully, via text or email - would be the worst thing in the world. Because I don't think you're wrong that people like your brother are the types of people who fall through the cracks.

If he's in trouble, and you *might* be able to be helpful without pushing too far - even if it's just by letting him know that he matters to somebody - do it (gently and carefully). (I think if he thinks you're just doing it because of your parents, that might feel less believable. So it is important that it comes from you.)

If you do succeed in making contact and it goes ok, I think 3urypteris' advice to set up some kind of communication (non-judgemental, accepting of what he's putting out, and acceptable to him, on his terms) that has nothing to do with your parents is good.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:42 AM on November 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Let's say he is in trouble. How could you help him? Think through why he hasn't asked you for this help and you might be clearer whether contacting him is invasive or not. If you think he's just too proud to ask, you could say something along the lines of what you'd be willing to help with (rent money, finding rehab, etc). But that doesn't seem like what's going on here; he's not likely homeless if he has a job, and many drug addicts do contact their families, if only to ask for money.
posted by desjardins at 12:17 PM on November 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Reasons a depressed person (vs. an addicted person) might not ask for any kind of help might include being trapped by inertia, sinking deeper and deeper into isolation, distorting truths, or believing lies depression tells (like "no one cares about me" or "I don't deserve help")...
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:30 PM on November 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Couldn't one pretend to be verifying employment for credit-worthiness or a rental application instead of for a new job?
posted by stormyteal at 7:01 PM on November 27, 2015


And y'know, honestly, I think this is the same point at which I'd get worried enough to act, too. There are numerous family members and family friends that I just sort of assume that my parents are the point of contact for. If it took a while for my parents to mention to me just how long it'd been since they'd heard from a person, and I hadn't heard anything either, and the dynamics were as you described... Yeah, I'd be trying to check on them and feeling guilty and neglectful that I hadn't kept in better touch all along. Especially if I was concerned that my lack of contact might be one more straw creating possible depression.

In other words, it doesn't necessarily sound invasive to me. Could be, could not - carefully evaluate from your end.
posted by stormyteal at 7:06 PM on November 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


It might not be good for his employment status if you make them think you're his next prospective employer doing a reference check.

Two comments on this from someone who works in HR -

1. Far and away the most common reason I am asked to verify someone's employment status is because the person wants a loan or something. So asking to verify employment won't necessarily trigger a "he's job-hunting?" Reaction.

2. BUT - I am also not allowed to say anything unless the person who calls me can verify they are with some legit institution, like a bank or the FBI or something. So unless you flat-out lied and said you were with Citibank, this may not even work anyway.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:29 AM on November 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Couldn't one pretend to be verifying employment for credit-worthiness or a rental application instead of for a new job?

Finding reasons to stalk someone at work is not going to make them more inclined to want to interact with you.

I don't speak to my family, either, and if I found out they were lying to my job to get information on me it might be the impetus I needed to seriously try for a restraining order.
posted by winna at 8:40 AM on November 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


« Older Teachers, help me out.   |   I'd like to get a new laptop, a bit better than... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.