How does somebody cope with the disappearance of a parent, a child, a spouse, a lover.  It is hard enough to cope with death, but at least death is certain.  There is a body and a funeral.  Family and friends reinforce the finality. You quickly learn to abandon the hope they will ever return and in time withdraw the cathexis, the sorrow, associated with that person.  How much more awful it is when they have just disappeared. How does Kate McCann cope with the abduction of her daughter Madeleine?   A husband walks out to work one morning, gives his wife a kiss as usual, says ‘see you later’ and disappears?  A lover suddenly vanishes leaving no means of contact.  How can a person ever let go under such circumstances.  That great torturer hope, condemns them to continued anguish as fear that the disappeared may be in danger conflicts with the probability that they wanted to go.  Disappearance leaves a black hole in your soul which devours all thought and generates a grief that never ends. How does anybody cope without the formality of closure, the acceptance of an end?  Some gain solace by creating a fantasy.       

Jennie’s mother just disappeared one night when she was only one year old leaving a hair brush, a bottle of cheap perfume and a note saying ‘Do not try to find me’.  Stricken with grief, her father never remarried, kept his wife alive in Jennie’s mind, and devoted himself to bringing Jennie up.  In ‘My Mam was a Hollywood Ice-Cream Blonde’, a new play by Alison Carr, Jennie, now aged 15, approaches adulthood with no guide to help her negotiate her identity as a grown woman.  There is no grandmother, no aunt. Tracey, her father’s new girl friend, might be in a position to help, but Jennie views her as a usurper, who threatens to steal her father.  She maintains the stability of her inner world through obsessional behaviours, assumes  the dependency of a child through anorexia, and fantasises an imaginary mother, a 30’s Hollywood actress created from the magazines she reads.


The creation of a fantasy relieves the tension.  Jennie’s mother did not leave her.  She is still alive, struggling to make it in the competitive world of film acting.  Dressed in a long black gown, mink stole, diamond necklace and with bubbly blonde hair, she visits Jennie every night, calls her honey bun and claims she still loves her.  Idly filing her nails, her mother tells her about her life in film and Jennie writes it all down in her notebook.  The central character in the fiction of Jennie’s life, her mother is still part of the family and loves her father, but she also represents a darker side and encourages her to get rid of Tracey. 


There is little distinction between sanity and madness.  Fantasy and illusion may be  stigmata of madness, but they can also be a perfectly rational solution for dealing with the torment of disappearance. Myth, legend and fantasy have always served to make sense of our lives. We indulge in make believe when we fall in love, when we move house, when we get a new job. It’s the fantasy and its camp follower – hope, that carry us through; otherwise we would do nothing.  Imagination is the engine of discovery.


We are held together by our beliefs.  They are what maintain the illusion of everlasting life.  Strip them away and all we have is the inevitability of loss and death.      

 But fantasy and imagination need to be informed and modified by reality.  Otherwise all is chaos and society collapses.  People may dream with their head in the clouds but their feet need to be firmly attached to the earth.  So at the end of the play, just as Jennie seems to accept the reality of Tracey and acknowledge the fantasy of the ice-cream blonde, her attention is captured by the announcer on the television. 

‘Mam? Mam?’ she cries, ‘Is that you?’