For MH370 families in China, no end to grief and hope

Families still haunted by MH370 disappearance
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Story highlights

  • Chinese mother of son on missing plane still believes he will come home
  • Many families say their loved ones are still alive
  • Psychologist: It's understandable they cling on to this hope

Dingzhou, China (CNN)Bian Xiuzhi carefully pulls back the clear plastic from her tattered photo album. She wants to show me her favorite photograph of her son. It's from a few years ago.

It shows Bian Liangjing standing proudly in front of a temple gate.
    "This is the best one because he looks so handsome," she laughs as tears fall on to the album.
    Bian was on his way back from Singapore after working on a construction site to earn money to pay for his dentist's license. His boss decided it was cheaper to fly through Malaysia.
    He boarded the Beijing-bound Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 flight in Kuala Lumpur on March 8 last year when it disappeared barely an hour into its journey. No trace has ever been found despite an extensive search.
    But his mother is convinced he's coming back.
    "If it is one year, if it is two years or three, I am looking forward to his return. I know he is still alive," she says.

    Still in pain

    I first met family members of those who were on the airliner that night as they stood in shock at the arrivals hall of Beijing airport.
    I saw them every day for a month as they grappled with confusion and mixed messages from Malaysia Airlines and the Malaysian government.
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    I was there when many received text messages saying "none of those on board survived." Many had to be wheeled out on gurneys. Some lashed out at the cameras.
    The news cycle moved on but the families are still here. They are still in pain.
    And all the family members I speak to say their loved ones are alive.
    They never speak in the past tense, they cling onto each theory that is circulated and they refuse to sign any documents to start financial settlements.
    "I think psychologically it is understandable, they choose to believe that their loved ones are still missing, so they can still have hope for them to return," says May Lam, a psychiatrist at The University of Hong Kong.
    She says the families need constant support from social workers and the government and they need to be helped to gradually accept their loss.

    Harassment

    But many say they are treated like an inconvenience.
    Families complain of harassment by local communist party officials, several have been detained by Chinese police for holding meetings and some say they have been barred from speaking to the international media.
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    Both the Chinese and Malaysian governments maintain they are doing everything they can to help.
    Meanwhile, Bian Liangjing's family, like all the others I have met, is stuck in a vortex of grief.
    His brother shows me to the room where they would sleep as young boys and the corner where they kept their toys. Bian Liangwei says they were best friends and that his older brother looked after him.
    "When he was here, everything was OK with our family, now everything is up to me. I hope he is somewhere alive. I just know he wants to come home soon to us," he says through his tears.