Friends, family and her faith have been the comfort for Joan Lawrence as she continues to live with the uncertainty surrounding the disappearance of her daughter, Claudia, whose 40th birthday she will mark tomorrow.
It is the start of what promises to be a “very difficult” few weeks for the Mayor of Malton who is also bracing herself for the glare of publicity which will surround the fifth anniversary since Claudia, a chef, failed to turn up for work at the University of York on March 19, 2009.
“I can’t believe it has been five years since she has disappeared,” said Joan, of Norton. “It shouldn’t have gone on this long with no news. It has been hell and I don’t know how we manage to carry on.”
Claudia last spoke to her parents by telephone the night before she went missing, sparking one of the largest ever investigations in North Yorkshire Police’s history. The case is now being reviewed by the force’s Major Crimes Unit.
Tomorrow, as with previous birthdays since Claudia went missing, will see Joan spend the day with her eldest daughter, Ali.
Mum and daughter will seek comfort in each other’s company, maybe go for a meal or do some shopping, and talk about Claudia and their memories of her.
Joan said: “The fact we don’t know where she is and can’t give her any cards, any presents but, more importantly, any hugs, is heart breaking, so Ali and I are spending the day together.
“We will laugh about the good times and talk about when they were little.
“When we have a mother and daughter day, it helps that we can talk about all these things, about how we are dealing with life, and give each other a hug.”
She is also grateful for the support of the Ryedale community and was heartened to receive words of comfort from one unlikely source - Prime Minister David Cameron.
He recently replied to a “heartfelt and moving” letter sent by Joan in support of Anne McIntosh in which she wrote of how the Thirsk and Malton MP had been very supportive since Claudia has disappeared.
Mr Cameron said: “Your ordeal is every parent’s nightmare and I cannot imagine what you and your family continue to go through. My heart goes out to you.
“I will be holding you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.”
Other gestures of support for Joan and her family are coming from the Rev Peter Robinson and Rev Rachel Hirst who will tomorrow light a candle for Claudia in St Michael’s Church, Malton, and St Peter’s Church, Norton; the strangers who stop her in the street and give her a hug; as well as the countless cards and letters that arrive from all over the country.
One card, close to her heart, is from a lifelong friend in Australia and features a prayer which Joan reads every day.
“I say it every morning to get me through the day,” she said. “I couldn’t get through this without my faith.
“There are times when I don’t believe this is real, sometimes I think she is going to come through the door.”