Saturday, June 02, 2007

Vigil


There were forty or fifty people at the vigil for Doug Henry last night; to my distress, only three of us from church were there, probably because the vigil had been organized at the last minute and announcements had gone out late (and one of our priests is out of town).

Beth knows about my hospital work, and when I got there, she asked me to say a prayer to open the vigil. "I need you to speak for me, because I can't." But after my brief prayer -- a modified version of the one I always use at the hospital, in ecumenical language because I figured not everyone there was Christian -- she spoke clearly and passionately, for a long time.

She told us that although the past eleven days have been the worst of her life, they've also shown her the best of humanity, because she's been so surrounded by love and prayer and support, both from people she knows and from people she doesn't. She said that she never could have imagined that something like this would also be a blessing, but that it has been.

One of the most moving stories was about the police. She called 911 when Doug had been missing for 24 hours, and received a visit from an uninterested, not-very-pleasant officer who said, "Husbands leave all the time. There's nothing for us to report here. There's no crime." At the suggestion of a friend, Beth then went to one of the area's larger police stations, where people listened to her and were very kind, but explained that they couldn't do anything. She wasn't in their jurisdiction. They made some phone calls and sent her to another station in Reno, where yet another officer, the most sympathetic yet, listened to Beth (and believed her when she said that Doug wouldn't just up and disappear), but then explained sadly that she couldn't do anything, either. To get on the Federal missing-persons list, the missing person has to meet certain criteria: has to be a child, an elderly person, on medication, or a danger to self and others. Doug doesn't fit any of those categories.

"If this were your father," Beth said, pleading, "what would you do? Tell me what to do!"

"I don't know," the officer said. "I'd be as angry and grieving as you are now. I just don't know."

She cried with Beth, and Beth left. But the next day, that officer called back, and said, "I took this to some of my supervisors, and we found a loophole. He's on the Federal missing-persons list now."

Someone else at the vigil knows that officer, and told us that he'd had a conversation with her after that. "Beth, she wanted me to tell you that she only did what she'd do for anyone in that situation, and what she hopes anyone would do for her in that situation. And she wants you to know that she's praying for you."

There were a lot of tears around the circle, of course. People talked about their memories of Doug, talked about seeing him and Beth light up when they were with each other, or when they talked about each other. Someone said, "I want to see that again," and Beth said, "So do I."

Many people were very carefully using present and future tense when they talked about Doug, but some used past tense. My stomach knotted whenever I heard that.

Today, Beth and some friends are going to search in the mountains around Truckee. Earlier this week, Beth spent seven hours in a rented plane, doing an aerial search; the next day, she hiked in the desert for seven hours, searching. She said that until she knows what's happened to Doug, whenever anyone suggests anywhere he might be, she's going to go look there. The needle-in-a-haystack aspect of this is terrifying, but it gives her something to do except sitting by the phone.

Her phone rang several times last night; whenever it did, I jumped, wondering if it was a call with news, but it never was.

Please keep praying for everyone involved.

6 comments:

  1. Thank goodness for your presence, Susan.

    By any chance, did she contact Doug's physician? Could there be a health element in this (seizure disorder, diabetes complication, heart problem, mental health issue, stroke, medication reaction, etc.) that could be involved?

    Is anyone organizing searches of his regular work route? His favorite routes to common destinations? Perhaps involve a private investigator? Check with businesses along his regular work route to see if there is security camera footage that might capture his car's time and location? Any new or relatively recent additions of people or events in his life?

    Just thinking while typing here....

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  2. Thanks, N=1.

    I believe all that's been addressed: some of his coworkers were at the vigil, and they've got the work angle covered. Beth had hired a private investigator, who didn't seem to be of much use. She's a nurse, so I'm sure she's aware of the health angles -- and she said specifically last night that he's healthy (which is one of the reasons it was difficult to get him onto the Federal list). They're trying to get camera footage from a gas station where he may have stopped for gas.

    The impression I got last night is that people have been bombarding her with ideas (including using the GPS on his cellphone, which unfortunately doesn't work unless the phone's on), and that she's feeling overwhelmed with all that.

    I don't think there are many stones she's left unturned. One of the most bizarre things about this is that no one's seen his car, either.

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  3. In one way, I hope that her feeling overwhelmed with the ideas is of some comfort - maybe of possibility. I'm not so good on knowing where cars can go to hide - long term parking at the airport? Chop shops? That's solely from watching TV - in real life? I don't know.

    It must be so difficult for her - the not knowing, the enforced patience, the waiting without end. I'm so sorry.

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  4. Well, I think people offering advice have to stay exquisitely sensitive to cues at a time like this -- because sometimes advice is welcome, and sometimes it's just too much. I also think that sometimes people rush to offer ideas to make themselvs feel better. . . . and while there's nothing wrong with that per se, it's important to put the needs of the most affected person first, at least while you're at her house instead of yours.

    Motivations always become muddy at a time like this. When my mother got lung cancer three years ago, every single person I told responded immediately with, "Does she smoke?" I kept telling them that she'd stopped smoking in 1969, and that her type of lung CA was the one most often seen in women and non-smokers. After a while, I realized that they were asking the question out of self-protection: "If she smoked and got lung cancer, then I won't get lung cancer, since I don't smoke." All of them cared about me, but they reflexively looked for some way to blame the victim.

    It sounds like there's a certain amount of that here, too, even fro the police. "Husbands run off all the time" is a neat, if callous, defense against the terrifying fact that someone with a job and a family and a normal life can vanish into thin air.

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  5. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be intrusive. I was unthinkingly muttering on the keyboard - filling the vacuum of the unknown.

    I hope she's able to find some comfort and some peace of mind.

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  6. No worries! No need to apologize . . . I've had to restrain the impulse to do the same thing myself; it's very natural!

    We want to try to find a way to fix what can't be fixed -- not by us, anyway.

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