Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The End of the Search for Chelsea King

Chelsea King will not be coming home from the jog she went on after school last Thursday.  Her body was found today in a shallow grave in Rancho Bernardo Community Park in San Diego where she went for her run.  A registered sex offender is under arrest, charged with her murder and linked to an assault on another jogger in the same park in December.

When things like this happen, you often hear people remark, "I just can't imagine what her parents must be going through."  This is undoubtedly the case.  Unless you've experienced something similar, it is unlikely that anything in your life is even vaguely related to the emotions that this family is experiencing right now. When we try to imagine what it would be like, we put ourselves directly into the worst of it -- knowing that your daughter has been raped and murdered.  But of course the family does not receive the news this way, and that is part of why we really can't imagine what it's like.

When Chelsea was later than usual coming home from her run, I imagine there was some stretch of time when no one noticed.  A minute or two late wouldn't get anyone's attention.  As time went on, and her family noticed she was late, the decision that something might be wrong probably came on gradually.  After all, if three minutes late isn't a big deal, is four?  What about five?  When do you decide it's a big deal?  Not worrying turns to worrying slowly, and there is an in-between time when folks are both worried and telling themselves they shouldn't be.

This same pattern repeats itself over and over.  There's worrying while knowing it's most likely she's fine, followed by knowing that she probably isn't fine (and the in-between time in the middle of those).  The hope that she's just injured somewhere fades into the fear that she's not, which fades into the knowledge that there's been an arrest but she might be alive, which fades into the realization that she probably isn't, which fades into the certainty.

One of the most common things people say after the traumatic death of a loved one is, "this doesn't feel real" or "this can't be true."  Part of this is because the sudden death of someone we care about is not on our mental menu for things that can happen on a normal day, so it seems like it can't possibly happen.  The other part, however, is that, at least in situations like this one, there have been so many transitions in the understanding of what is going on.  It's hardly surprising that, when it's over, it still feels like it's in that in-between place.

Chelsea King is not coming home.  Her parents know that now.  One can hardly blame them, however, if they have fleeting moments when their minds refuse to accept delivery on that particularly gruesome message.


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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 www.SchoolCrisisConsultant.com
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