Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Missing Toddler

When my daughter was a toddler, my husband served in the US Navy, and we lived in a very large coastal California city.  One day my husband and I decided, for entertainment, we would like to go to a large swap meet.  We loaded up our toddler, invited my mother and away we went.  It was a wonderful activity, filled with exciting things to see and purchase.  The prices were low and the local delicacies abundant.  We were having a fabulous time. 

About two hours into our activity, I walked over to my husband, who was shopping a different booth than I, and noticed that our toddler was not in her stroller.  I asked my husband where she was, thinking that my mother must have her, and my husband said, “She’s in her stroller.”  Suddenly, my whole life changed.  My wonderful day of pleasure shopping abruptly changed into a horrid emergent situation.  I felt as though I could not breathe, it seemed as if the world began to spin a million miles per minute.  My toddler was missing at an open-air swap meet, in a large and dangerous city, and I had no idea where she was or what might be happening to her. 

My husband, being the organizer that he is, immediately sprang into action.  He instantly located my mother and sent her to the business office to alert security.  Her next task was to go to the entry gate and detain anyone trying to exit with a child near the age of our daughter.  My husband headed toward the restrooms to inspect them for our daughter or signs of foul play, and I was to comb through the rows and rows of shopping booths, calling out my daughter’s name and scanning for anyone that might be trying to escape with her.  We all three sprang into our appointed duties.  I ran as fast as a cheetah, calling my daughter’s name and inspecting anyone and everyone within the isles and shops.  I was frantic, just recalling the event, is causing my heart to race slightly and my eyes to tear.  As I rounded a corner, I saw a woman, tugging my daughter by the hand.  My child was hysterical and I am sure I looked a fright, because the woman quickly threw her hands up in the air and started yelling that she had found my daughter and was taking her to security.

Sobbing, I fell to my knees and held my child tightly to my chest.  My daughter was equally distraught; she was crying and holding onto me just as tightly.  Oh my, I just cannot tell you what a horrid experience that was.  I had felt as if my life were over.  Lost in a whirlwind of panic and fear.  I had felt unbelievable anguish and inconceivable despair.  We left the swap meet and went directly to a large warehouse, where we purchased a personal alarm for my daughter.  She has never been lost again.

Many times over the years, as I have watched her grow into a wonderful woman, (currently expecting her own child), I have reflected back on that horrific experience.  The thought of what could have happened to her that day, still frightens me and almost brings me to my knees.  If my daughter had been kidnapped that day or killed, I do not know that I could have lived on without her.  The pain, anguish and self-blame would have been too much to bear.  I am so thankful that she was all right, that I found her and that the poor woman who had her was a Good Samaritan, rather than a demented crazy axe murderer.  My experience although terribly frightening ended with a positive resolution.

The feelings and panic I experienced that dreadful day were real and powerful.  They pale, however, in comparison to those a family feels, when they have unexpectedly or suddenly lost a loved one.  Unexpected loss brings a multitude of issues beyond those of an anticipated loss.  When a loved one has been ill, or has been suffering severe pain for an extended time, although we mourn the loss, death is sometimes a relief for those witnessing day in and day out, the unrelenting pain and suffering of their family member or close friend.  When death is unexpected or sudden, family and close friends develop regrets, and are robbed of the time they need to prepare themselves, and resolve any unfinished business or issues existing between themselves and the deceased.  These issues will fester over time and can become severe health issues, both psychologically and physically.  Equally robbed is their opportunity to simply say “good-bye.”  This simple moment, shared between those we love, is immensely important.  Being robbed of this final rite of passage creates a helplessness that is difficult to overcome.  Mourners carry this pain with them for a very long time, and some are unable to overcome it.  Pair with this the regret of unfinished business, the anguish of brutal death, or the eternal yearning for an unfound loved one, and there is a recipe for extreme extension with a myriad of additional complications to overcome, for the accomplishment of grief recovery. 

An example of this sort of loss would be the disappearance of Natalie Holloway.  Her mother, Beth Holloway, was relentless in trying to find her daughter.  For years, she pursued the whereabouts of her daughter and those who may have had a hand in her disappearance.  In the end, the legal system failed her.  Often people would ask, “Whatever happened to her (Beth Holloway)?  It seems she just gave up and disappeared.”  If she had been the giving up type, none of us would have ever heard of Natalie Holloway.  I am amazed that Beth was able to go on as long as she did.  The stress, sorrow and regret she suffered, eventually overpowered her ability to continue her search against the unsupportive legal system of Aruba and the inabilities of our government to help resolve her fight against them.  She had to begin her road to recovery without resolution.

Currently in the news, one intently follows the disappearance of the commercial 777 jetliner.  The sorrow on the faces, and behavior of the families suffering through this crisis, show the same complications present in the Natalie Holloway case.  These families need extreme support and aggressive counseling, rather than being abruptly escorted away from those who should be offering insights and answers.  With leadership comes great responsibility.  With the absence of information and answers, responsible leaders should render greater latitude and understanding than is being offered to these families in despair.  We continue to hope for the safe return of the commercial 777 jetliner and it’s passengers.  We know that their families do too.  In the end, if this is not realized, we hope and pray for their recovery, as we did, and continue to do for Beth Holloway.  They too, may be forced to begin their road to recovery, as did Beth, without resolution.

The feelings and panic I experienced that dreadful day at that open-air swap meet, when I briefly lost my toddler, were real and powerful.  They faded somewhat, upon locating my unharmed daughter.  Although unlikely, my fervent prayer is that these unfortunate families with loved ones aboard the 777 jetliner would have the same resolution of having their loved ones returned to them whole and unharmed.  In that this scenario is less and less probable as the days painfully pass, I pray that the world and especially those in authoritative roles, will render them the tender love and extended grief care resources, of which they so desperately stand in need.