Thursday, August 27, 2009

Waking Up From a Nightmare You've Gotten Used To

It is hard for most people to even imagine, but let's try.  Your daughter is 11 (this part is easy for me, since my daughter actually is 11).  She leaves the house to walk to school, and you stand on your driveway, watching her as she goes.  When she's about a quarter of a mile away, you see a car pull up next to her and someone pulls her inside.  The car drives away before you can get there.  No trace of her is ever found.

This is a nightmare for any parent.  It would take a tremendous amount of assistance and intervention to return you to any kind of functioning.  You do not "get over" something like this. 
The fact that your daughter was never found means that accepting that she isn't coming back is going to be that much harder and take that much longer. Eventually, you find a space for this reality in your mind, and you reach a "new normal."

Then one day, 18 years later (it happens to be the day before what would have been her 29th birthday), the phone rings and you hear something you can't believe.  A woman has walked into a police department and told them she is your daughter.  Two people are under arrest for kidnapping.  You have woken up from the nightmare.

Obviously there is much to celebrate in the reappearance of Jaycee Dugard in California on Wednesday, 18 years after her abduction.  It certainly is preferable to the more common alternative, where what is finally found is only remains.  At the same time, I strongly suspect her parents and she are going to experience some mixed emotions in the days, weeks and months ahead.

Jaycee's parents somehow came to grips with her being gone and built their lives on the notion that she wasn't coming home.  It was imperative for them to do this, because it was the only way they could reclaim their lives.  Now, they're going to have to readjust back.  One presumes that will be easier, but that doesn't make it trivial.  They have missed 18 years of their little girls' life.  They can't pick up where they left off with her.  Whatever guilt they had about not being able to save her in 1991 is going to come back, compounded by whatever residual anger Jaycee brings with her as an adult.

I am thrilled for the Dugard family, and I know they are truly thankful for this miracle.  I just hope that everyone gives them -- and they give themselves -- the space to have some mixed feelings moving forward, and the time to resolve them as best they can.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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