'Closure' no term to apply to victims' families' feelings

Memo to TV talking heads, newspaper reporters and editors: Let's put a moratorium on the word "closure" when it comes to the families of murder victims.

Wednesday morning, I watched a Sacramento TV station's report on the killing of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu of Tracy. After the field reporter finished her segment, the anchor commented that he hopes they find the killer so the family can have "closure."

Closure? Please ...

Someone murdered an innocent 8-year-old girl, tucked her body into a suitcase and tossed it into a farm pond. Whoever did this needs to bunk alongside Scott Peterson, Cary Stayner, Richard Allen Davis and the other despicable subspecies inhabiting San Quentin's exclusive death row enclave. No doubt arrests and convictions in such cases can give a family some satisfaction and a feeling justice was served.

"They need resolution," said Scott Webb, executive director of the Carole Sund-Carrington Memorial Reward Foundation, which works with the families of missing persons and victims to publicize their cases.

But the misguided notion that a conviction will allow family members to flip an emotional light switch and simply get over losing a murdered child or loved one is brainless and nonsensical pablum. In fact, a prolonged investigation, a long wait for trial and then the trial itself -- often containing gruesome forensic evidence -- usually is a horrific and nightmarish experience.

"It's all too much for a family," Webb said. "There's never any closure. They have to live with it every single day."

Ask Francis and Carole Carrington if they feel any closure a decade after their daughter, granddaughter and a family friend were murdered near Yosemite National Park.

Ask Bob and Susan Levy if they feel any closure eight years after their daughter, Chandra, was murdered in a Washington, D.C., park.

Ask Sharon Rocha if a day passes when she doesn't think about her daughter, Laci, and the unborn grandson she never got to meet. Is she glad former son-in-law and convicted murderer Scott Peterson is in prison? Certainly. But her loss overwhelmingly outweighs any measure of vengeance.

Ask Boni Driskill or Jacque MacDonald or any other mother of a murder victim if they could possibly ever feel "closure."

Ask the same of Tracy Mayo, whose mother, Nita Mayo, disappeared under suspicious circumstances in the Sierra nearly four years ago.

"I shut off my thoughts, feelings, and memories so that I can live my life without sadness and anger," Mayo said. "But the guilt that I carry by doing that is very overwhelming. ... All I can say is that I don't understand what or why this has happened, but I have to believe that one day I will."

Certainly, the family and survivors of murder victims return to their jobs, routines and everyday lives. But there's a lingering sense of emptiness -- emotions triggered by anything that reminds them of their loved one.

Hence, closure is a word better suited for roads, for repairs or because of flooding. It applies to factories and retail stores, and we've had plenty of opportunities to use it over the past year or so. But it's a bad fit for murders.

Yet the media throws "closure" around almost gratuitously, as if the death of an 8-year-old girl or three tourists or a pregnant woman needs an assist to tug at your heart.

"People don't exactly understand what it's like for someone like the family of Sandra Cantu," said Philip Trompetter, a Modesto psychologist who spent 30 years working with police officers after traumatic incidents, along with survivors of crime victims. "People are looking for a word that describes. Closure is the wrong word. It implies that people can put the issue to rest and that it goes away."

They can't. It doesn't. It never will.

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at jjardine@modbee. com or 578-2383.