Thursday, October 15, 2009

All's Not Well, Even When It Ends Well

Update: Falcon Keene was found hiding in the attic of his home about an hour after I wrote this post. I know all of us are grateful for the happy ending. Best of luck to him and his parents recovering from this day!

As I write this, searchers are looking for 6 year-old Falcon Heene. He's the little boy who reportedly climbed into the basket that was attached to a giant Mylar balloon, which in turn was tethered to his family's home in Fort Collins, Colorado, this morning. According to his brother, he then untied the balloon and it floated away with him in the basket. After an hour and a half and a rescue attempt by the Colorado Air National Guard, the balloon landed. Falcon wasn't in it.

There are now two possibilities. One is that Falcon was not, in fact, in the balloon when it took off. He untied it, it floated away and he got scared, perhaps because he knew he was going to be in big trouble, and went to hide somewhere. This, of course, is what everyone is hoping for. The other possibility is that he fell out of the balloon sometime during its flight, and is injured somewhere below its flight path.

I am going to think positive thoughts for the Heene family, and presume, for the sake of this blog post, that Falcon is found alive and well -- that he's hiding or, if he fell, he was not seriously injured. I don't think there's anyone who would disagree that that is the desired outcome here. And certainly, if and when it occurs, Falcon's parents will be relieved.

I would like to argue, however, that even with that positive outcome, this will still most likely be a critical incident for the Heene family. If a critical incident is one which has the power to overwhelm one's usual coping skills, this one certainly qualifies. Even after Falcon is back home, safe and sound, his parents will have some serious processing to do. They won't have to process a death, but there are many losses nonetheless.

The Heenes have lost the idea that they can and will keep their children safe. I say that without casting blame in any way. Whenever a parent experiences a dangerous event involving their child, they have to confront the reality that we cannot protect them from everything. That is hard. We are evolutionarily inclined to view our number one job as parents as maintaining the health and safety of our children. Failing at that, in a big or a small way, is fundamentally disturbing.

The Heenes will also have the added burden of knowing that they, themselves, could have prevented aspects of this from happening. The balloon was accessible and they were not there when Falcon decided to untie it. As hard as it is to realize you can't protect your children, it's even harder to realize that you could and you didn't. Again, I am not judging. Hindsight is 20-20, as the saying goes, and certainly had the Heenes known this was going to happen they would have stopped it. But they didn't know, and they didn't stop it, and that's going to take some time to deal with.

Once again, I am sending all positive hopes to the Heenes and their community, and wishing them good courage as they try to understand this event in the days to come.


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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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