Being a member of the news media, I am often bombarded with the realities of our imperfect world.
From fatal crashes, horrendous crimes and fateful illnesses, it is often difficult to grapple with the tremendous amount of pain victims experience if you have never experienced the same hardship.
While I can’t speak for all journalists, it’s my duty to remain sensitive to victims in situations when the heartache of a tragedy is simply unexplainable – or unrelatable – while doing my job to report the news.
Most of us have been in situations, that, despite of how much we really do care, we just can’t understand unless it has personally happened to you before. In my work, I’ve always tried to be mindful of that.
This week, tragedy came knocking in my own life after a longtime friend’s grandmother who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease went missing.
The reality of the situation became all too real when I heard the details from law enforcement authorities through my work email that my friend’s 72-year-old grandma had wandered away from her lake house in Warsaw on July 13.
The burden of the news came after I had spent Saturday evening with members of the Harrisonville community at a memorial concert celebrating the life of 16-year-old Savannah Nash, who was killed in an automobile crash in May.
As I tried to sympathize with the Nash family, and my friend, my thoughts Saturday evening were focused on one key fact: Tragedy is unbiased of age. It affects the young and old – no matter how unfair we feel that is.
Through the media with other missing-person cases, I’ve seen families sickened with the thoughts of what may have happened to their loved one. That feeling came all too personal this week.
As images of missing woman Hellen Cook were flashed on the TV screens and on social media outlets of someone I have known for about 15 years, words weren’t enough to describe my feelings.
Grandma Cook, as we called her, has attended my family’s church in Blue Springs for many years. My last memory of her was at her granddaughter’s wedding in June.
The incident unfolded Saturday as her husband, Howard, had been mowing the lawn and had gone to put the lawnmower away in the shed. Hellen had been sitting on a swing outside of their home, and when he returned, his wife was nowhere to been seen.
A neighbor spotted Hellen walking toward Missouri 7 Highway by a neighbor, and alerted Howard.
Howard followed the path for miles, but was unable to reach her. By afternoon, he contacted authorities and sniff-searching dogs were able to follow Cook’s scent to 7 Highway.
As of press time Thursday, Hellen still hasn’t been found despite a statewide manhunt by law enforcement officials. The family has been gone without sleep all week, making every hour that goes by count in their own search.
The family does believe Hellen could be trying to follow the route the couple would have used to return to their primary residence in Buckner, in eastern Jackson County, but as each hour goes by, the family realizes the chance for a safe return is minimized.
At this point, she could be anywhere in the country.
While we continue to search for Hellen, I want to echo the words of Cass County Democrat Missourian Publisher John Beaudoin in a recent column he wrote about the discovery of three missing girls who were found alive after a decade in confinement in Cleveland.
The discovery of these girls represent hope, he said, in reference to the local search for missing Belton teen Kara Kopetsky, as well as for family members of other missing persons.
“It gives other family members of missing persons hope as well,” he said. “Hope and optimism are not lost causes.”
That is what I’ve been believing in this week.