Navigating the Phases of a Long-Running Case
Hostage US Article
By Winnie Lee, August, 2022
It can be hard to imagine learning the news that your loved one has been wrongfully detained or kidnapped in another country, far from home. For families navigating long-running cases, months turn to years and while new challenges and issues arise, Hostage US works to find sustainable and practical solutions every step of the way. At the cornerstone of our support, we offer a place of understanding, and we strive to make a terrifying and lonely experience a little more bearable through community. For those who haven’t been in this situation, it is shocking to learn what families go through while a loved one is in captivity.
In supporting cases that span years, we have found that there are common phases that families go through that can be summarized into three major periods: the period of activity, the reflection period, and the period of moving towards a new normal. Although every case is unique, each phase can be loosely categorized by similar emotional and practical problems.
From day one until about a year, there is a period of intensive activity. That isn’t to say the efforts to get their loved one home slow down after this period, but in the first year, families hit the ground running and are fueled by the hope that their loved one will come home any day. The sudden shock of the kidnapping or detention gives way to intense bouts of extreme highs and lows. The family is working hard, learning new skills and information, trying to wrap their heads around this massive problem, meeting new people, and typically saying yes to everything. They are anxious, worried, and preoccupied, but continue to be hopeful for a quick rescue or release.
When there is little to no information coming in, people tend to create narratives about what could be happening, which can lead to further anxiety and a sense of being untethered from reality. Families are taking in so much and it can be hard to stay organized and to prioritize. Self-care is deprioritized and families often lose track of tending to the basic necessities in their own lives. With the pedal to the metal, anyone would eventually start to run on fumes.
During this time, Hostage US can help to make sense of the noise, introduce organizational methods, and vet resources and offers of help. We can normalize the experience and offer information while giving context. Our team can help families connect with the right people in government, set up meetings, and then attend as a note-taker and emotional support. Hostage US can offer complimentary news subscriptions from our partnerships, assistance from regional and subject matter experts, and connections to legal or media advisors when needed. We can also help families sort through and tie off various practical issues that may be left hanging in the loved one’s absence. Examples include bank accounts, loan payments, taxes, and other bills in the captive’s name.
Around the one-year mark, families are often struck by the awful reality that the situation has not yet been resolved, which leads to a reflection period. This is when they accept the reality of the situation, however complex it may be. During this time, families might re-evaluate their strategy and think through what is to come. The idea of self-care might get some traction, but there are many false starts. The physical health of the captive may also come into play during this period.
The emotional toll of the entire experience starts to catch up with the family. They may feel the pressure of the public eye, or they may be getting harassed online if the case is public. There could also be a lull or a quiet time during this period, which can come as a shock because, until this point, the family has been running non-stop.
It can be helpful to “re-frame the lull time.” When there isn’t much to do or there isn’t any new information coming in, families can use the time to pause, reflect, and make necessary adjustments in their strategy, engagements, and relationships. Family members can address the administrative parts of life, re-evaluate resources, and introduce new resources. This is a good time to consider what is working and what is not working, or what simply might not be sustainable.
Hostage US is here every step of the way to soundboard ideas and continue to make connections. We have a network of mental health advisors ready to connect with families, and financial planners who can take a look at ways to reduce costs and protect assets.
Once the case passes about two years, families start moving towards a new pattern of life and their new normal. This period might be marked by burnout for those involved. Family members may develop physical health issues brought on by their continued stress. As they start thinking about the long-term plan, they may be facing the idea that the captive might be gone for a long time.
Family members begin to think about their own lives and how to carry on, but there is often a lot of guilt around prioritizing themselves when their loved one is still in captivity. They may also be realizing the impact that the last few years has had on their lives, work, and relationships. In some cases, their lives have been put on hold. In others, their lives have taken a new direction that was never intended. Frustration, exhaustion, anger, and grieving are all part of this phase, and sometimes the blows hit heavier than before—perhaps because there is less energy and less to fall back on.
Hostage US can help family members develop new boundaries in order to prioritize themselves and their own paths forward—personally or professionally. It can be helpful to take social media or news breaks and time off. Managing guilt and addressing personal health issues is important at this time.
Hostage US can offer tactics to rebuild careers or change paths to accommodate this new normal. We can connect family members with life coaches, career coaches, and resume review professionals to create a personal and professional path forward. We can also help families connect with doctors and specialists when needed.
Families who face long-running cases of a loved one held hostage or wrongfully detained will always find variables changing and curve balls are unavoidable. For example, there could be administration changes, unforeseeable events happening in the country the captive is held, lapses in communication, others might come home first, or there may be new health issues or concerns for the captive.
Still, life at home will carry on. As families continue fighting for their loved one’s release, they find a way to balance everything that must be done. Hostage US will be here to walk alongside them for as long as we are needed. There is no end to our offer of support, and we will continue to meet families where they are to offer support at every phase of the case.