07/15/2014 11:03 EDT | Updated 09/14/2014 05:59 EDT

How a Community Grieves With a Family They've Never Met


Tonight I went out with a good friend and we cried together. That itself isn't a particularly notable occurrence. Doing life with someone you're close to often results in tears, some of joy and some of pain. However, the ones shed this evening had nothing to do with our own struggles and sorrows. Instead we wept for a mama we've never met, and for the rest of her clan.

It wasn't supposed to end this way. When Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents went missing two weeks ago, our community seemed to collectively inhale, desperate to celebrate a joyful reunion and sigh with relief. Every time I checked headlines (obsessively at some points), it seemed to be with one continuous breath, "God, please." Words I suspect were on the lips of Nathan's parents for 15 long, excruciating days.

The first sign all would not end well was a scheduled news conference with the chief of police and a cancelled Amber Alert yesterday afternoon. A short time later, it was confirmed.

Two pending first-degree murder charges and one second-degree count. A missing persons case now considered a homicide investigation.


Our city is a busy one that I rarely see stand still for something that doesn't have some sort of sporting honour on the line, but today you could practically hear the air being sucked from it in those moments. Hope turns to grief far too quickly. There's no time for a graceful, easy transition between emotions. My whole heart wishes more than anything that we were only mourning the loss of a cup instead of the loss of lives. With a beloved team, you can comfort yourself with the bravado of the "there's always next year" sentiment. Cruelly, there are no second chances for a happier outcome here.

Everything about this story screams and aches of senselessness. With that feeling comes the desperation to explain and grasp at possible reason, where tragically none exists. So instead, we look for ways to meaningfully express our deepest sorrow and condolences towards people we only know through brief public appearances and a smattering of details released through the media in recent weeks. We may not know the O'Brien and Liknes families personally, but in the faces of Nathan, and of Alvin and Kathy, we see our own people, the ones we love more than anyone or anything, and would never want to imagine life without.

How do we rally around and support a family who is undoubtedly walking through their darkest days, on a journey that will last a lifetime? I've never met Jennifer O'Brien. We don't navigate life side-by-side the way I do with the sister-friend I spent tonight with, and others in my circle. But as a mom who is watching another live out her worst fear, there's nothing I want more than for her and her family to feel how much they are loved, by those who walk closely with them and the city who grieves behind them.

And as time continues forward, and the weeks and months, birthdays, anniversaries and milestones pass quietly by, I pray the family is reminded often that they are always loved and never forgotten. That their beautiful Nathan, their superhero, is remembered, acknowledged and cherished by the community who desperately prayed he would come home safely.

God, please.

Nathan O'Brien, Grandparents Missing