It's hard to imagine the shock Brenda Heist's family must have felt this week when they got the call that she was alive. It was 11 years ago that the Pennsylvania mom disappeared without a trace, leaving behind half-folded laundry, a dinner that was defrosting, and her children, who were 8 and 12 at the time.
According to the Huffington Post, after attempts to find her were unsuccessful, she was legally declared dead. Only, she wasn't dead, and this week she was found alive and well in Florida.
While it might sound like the sort of joyous ending people wish and pray for, it's not quite that simple because, according to police, she left of her own will.
According to reports she was going through an "amicable" divorce in 2002, but that stress and financial concerns were devastating to her. After dropping her kids off at school one day, she was crying in a park when somehow a conversation with a man and woman there led to her joining them to hitchhike down to the Florida Keys. There she stayed for the next decade, living with homeless people on the streets, never once reaching out to her children.
As moms I think we've all had days in which we just want to run away from our real lives, but usually we take a deep breath (or a shot of something strong) and get back to raising our kids and the day-to-day family life. It's simply unfathomable to actually run away like she did. Those poor children. I imagine all of their sorrow and mourning over the years, and now ... now what? How do you reconcile the joy over learning someone you once loved is alive and the anger at knowing she deserted you?
But at the same time I have some pangs of sympathy for this woman because as awful as what she did was, maybe she just felt that desperate. It's not like she went off to live the high life. She was living off the streets, eating out of trash cans. Perhaps she felt incapable of raising her children, or that they were better off without her. I don't know, but I do know that any mother would have to be in a pretty bad place to do what she did.
And she must have had some regrets. She reportedly just walked into the sheriff's office in Key Largo, Florida, last Friday and told them she was a missing person. Police detective John Schofield told the Huffington Post, "She said she was at the end of her rope, she was tired of running."
Among the many other questions that need to be answered in this case is the matter of the life insurance money that her husband, Lee Heist, collected after she was declared dead. It's hard to imagine what an insurance company would do in a case like this. Schofield said:
She has a birth certificate and a death certificate so she's got a long ways to make this right again. She's got to take it slow with her family, I'm sure, and it's going to be a long process.
Do you have any sympathy for this woman?
Image via WFMZ