Webinar presenter Duane Bowers answered a number of your questions after his presentation, "Ambiguous Loss: The Impact of Missing Persons on Victims, Advocates, and Judicial System Personnel." Here are some of his responses.
Audience Question: You talked how people who experienced or are experiencing grief volunteer to organizations like hospices. Can the same be said of activism? The example that they're using are the Parkland students. How can regrief apply to these students or others who have gone through similar events like that?
Duane Bowers: Absolutely. I want to separate traumatic response from the grief response. In a traumatic response, often we need to give the trauma a different meaning and value. The Parkland students, what they're doing is saying, "This is horrible this happened to us, and our friends died." In order to wrap around this, there is a need to give it a new meaning and value. Something good must come out of this. So, they have attached to the gun control issue. That's a perfectly normal response, to try to give the event a different meaning and value. You can say the same with grief but with grief, the connection tends to not be advocacy so much as it is service. Service to other people who may be going through the same situation. Yes, in essence, it's the same activity but because once trauma, it's going to be much more sort of an advocacy kind of, "I got to make a meaning different here." While for grief its more about, "I need to help others feel a different way, and that will give this loss a different meaning and value.
These young people will have regrief, they will experience regrief — like in graduation. I guarantee you at graduation, there will be moments of silence for the kids who were killed. There will be some kind of memorial for those kids. They'll light a candle for them. They'll have empty chairs for them, with their caps and gowns on them. There will be some recognition of that. As they grow older, if it was a friend, they will remember when they get married, or have their first kid. Those markers in life, “I will grieve again, the fact that they're not here to share this with me."
Audience Question: You spoke about how families of the missing will often feel isolated or alone just because other people don't know how to engage them. Is there a way for them to reach out and help others understand what they need?
Duane Bowers: Certainly, there is. But I want you to think about this. If my loved one has just gone missing, am I going to spend time trying to help you understand me? Or am I going to spend time trying to find my loved one? Am I going to spend time trying to hold my family together or am I going to come out and say, "Here, let me teach you how you can support me"? We expect people to be supportive when we need their help. The unfortunate thing is, in this case, most people don't know how to be supportive. The family could but quite honestly, are they going to have the resources to do that? I doubt it. And they're really going to have an expectation that particularly best friends are just going to be there for them. And unfortunately, I cannot tell you how many families I worked with where it was the best friends that kind of walked away because they didn't know what to do, and it was just tangential acquaintances that stepped in and became the most supportive. Make it practical. Because those are the things that they need help with, the practical support. The emotional support isn't going to come for a while. They need the practical support. And that's the best way to reach out to them. For anyone who wants some suggestions, on how to be supportive:
"Can I cook a meal for you?"
"Can I take the kids for you this afternoon?"
"Can I pick the kids up and take them to school for the next week?"
"What can I do?"
"What do you need done most now that I can help you with?"
"Do you want me to do the laundry?"
Audience Question: Based on the definitions you described, is it possible that an officer or other justice professionals who work missing persons cases on a continual basis, is it possible that they could suffer from PTSD?
Duane Bowers: Based on the new diagnostic criteria for PTSD, going back to exposure, look at the last one — being repeatedly exposed to aversive details of the event. The actual example in the DSM is law enforcement personnel who are constantly being told stories of sexual child abuse. Certainly, if I'm being told stories of the pain and difficulty of having a missing loved one, particularly a child, repeatedly. Absolutely, that law enforcement personnel can eventually go through a traumatic response which is the raising of cortisol levels and have those symptoms that we looked at and exhibiting them. We often don't think of law enforcement as a victim in this situation, but they can be if this is the only kind of cases that they work.
Audience Question: You talked about how people who are in those initial days of discovering their loved one is missing and may not necessarily have good memory recall. Are there samples of materials that law enforcement or victim services can or should provide those family members? Materials that can be downloaded or shared from NCMEC?
Duane Bowers: NCMEC has lots of materials that they can download and see what is a normal response. There are other organizations that may have information online, I am thinking of project Jason. NCMEC can certainly refer them to others as well. NCMEC does have printed material that they can give to law enforcement to hand out as if it's coming from law enforcement as well. That's mostly children who are missing. I believe there is some information that law enforcement handout that NCMEC produces as well but it's for law enforcement to distribute.
Yes, absolutely, there are resources, but you just got to know about them ahead of time, and that's the hard part. There's also an organization, CUE, out of North Carolina, that focuses on all, not just missing children. There are a few organization, but there aren't as many for adults as there are for children.
Audience Question: If a family chooses not to have a funeral does that inhibit or block the grieving process?
Duane Bowers: It can. Of course, funerals are for the living, and we need funerals. We need a point in time that we can say as of this moment I am publicly stating that I am accepting this loss. That's really what a funeral does for us. It's a time when we can say, "Okay, I can no longer hide from it. I can no longer pretend in my head." It is publicly saying, "Yes, my loved one has deceased and we're doing something with the body, or if there is nobody, we're having a memorial service or whatever." It becomes a transition point for folks. It is very important in how I am starting my grieving process, to have that point as sort of the start point at which I say, "Yes, I am now adjusting to this loss." Many people don’t, and they go to the grieving process but quite honestly, it's very helpful to have a funeral or a memorial service just to be sort of mark the start point of the grieving process
Audience Question: What are the best ways to deflect or redirect a family who is angry with law enforcement?
Duane Bowers: There are police departments that now have social workers and have a missing persons ombudsman, advocate, or someone who understands missing persons and become the liaison between the police and the family.
What you will find is trying to explain to the family that “Law enforcement actually does have other priorities does not work." "Mine is the top priority. What do you mean they have other priorities? This is my loved one who's missing." So, having someone who knows both the law enforcement system and understands missing persons is a really good way to manage and handle the family, they become the contact point. They can then contact law enforcement say, "I need to give this family something, what do you got?", and work so that the police aren't being pounded with angry phone calls and the family's feeling that at least somebody's in their corner.
Audience Question: How do you help law enforcement or other justice professionals deal with any guilt or bad feelings they may have while they're working the case and they can't find the missing person?
Duane Bowers: For law enforcement, this is one of those things that you cannot rationalize out and you really do need to talk to somebody about. If you do have an advocate who is trained in missing persons, talking to them about it. It's really easy to go home and look at your kids and say, "That could've been my kid", and that doubles the guilt. This is when you really have to talk through. But some of the key points are to know that you have done the best that you can, everything that you know how to do. Contact different places that may do training on this like Fox Dali(?), NCMEC has a training unit that's just for law enforcement, there are a couple of other agencies out there and that's what they do – they train law enforcement in these things. Get as much training as you can. Connect to others who have been through the training, so you can bounce with them. Ask, "Have I done everything I could've? How do you feel when you go through this?" That kind of peer support can also be very helpful.
People in the court system, same thing. It's hard to find others who have worked in this kind of cases. Connecting with an advocate or social worker that does this kind of work… just talk it through with them.
And understand what your guilt's about? Is it about not being able to find the child? Well, that's not your fault, that's the perpetrator's fault, or the person's fault if they ran away or walked away. Is it legitimate or illegitimate? Was there something you could've done so the result would've been different? If there's nothing more that you could’ve done, then this is probably irrational guilt, and so you need to look at why you're feeling as such, why you're coming back to the feeling knowing you've done everything you could've done. It may be because you don't know how else to feel about it or you're really afraid that it could happen to your kids. Once you identify the real feeling is, then it's easier to work through. That's what talking to somebody will help you do.
Click Here to View a Recording of Duane Bowers' presentation, "Ambiguous Loss: The Impact of Missing Persons on Victims, Advocates, and Judicial System Personnel."