By Chloe Morrison
Since Walker County 911 dispatcher Theresa Parker disappeared 39 days ago, her family has searched for answers and struggled to carry on without her, they say.
"We are making our way through it a little at a time," said Mrs. Parker's brother-in-law Jonathan Wilson. He has been stepping in to speak for the family when the missing woman's sisters could not bear to talk about it.
But moving on is easier said than done.
Since Mrs. Parker went missing March 21, her estranged husband, Sam Parker, has become a "person of interest" in the case, Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents said. He recently was fired from his post as sergeant at the LaFayette Police Department for having C-4 plastic explosives in his work locker, found in the course of the investigation.
It all started with a series of news conferences. Searches were organized wit the hope of finding Mrs. Parker alive or -- at the very least -- some evidence of a crime. As time passes, that hope diminishes, Mrs. Parker's sister Christina Hall said.
Mrs. Hall said she has come closer to accepting that something awful has happened to her sister.
But the questions remain. The void hangs over them.
"Our lives have been so empty these past five weeks without her," Mrs. Hall said. "So many of us have shed so many tears just wondering where she is and why she's gone."
Then, another bump: Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert E. "Buzz" Franklin disqualified himself last week from prosecuting the case. It's been turned over to Rome Circuit District Attorney Leigh Patterson.
In a letter to Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker regarding the "investigation of Samuel Parker," Mr. Franklin cited the close friendship of Mr. Parker with the prosecutor's chief investigator, Johnny Bass.
The district attorney wrote that evidence gathered by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation suggests Mrs. Parker may have been killed, "although no body has been found."
When they began to search for answers the family was sick, Mr. Wilson said. They couldn't eat. They couldn't sleep.
But now, as the reality seems to seep in, his appetite is slowly returning, he said.
"You can't go forever and not eat," Mr. Wilson said. "But, I can't say we've been sleeping better."
Sleep is not an immediate necessity, and life goes on.
"We've been forced to think about other things," he said. "It's not been easy. We are not putting it out of our minds, but we have to write our bills like everybody else. You can't stop paying your bills.
"It is the most difficult thing I've ever had to deal with."
Mrs. Hall and her husband have had to go back to work, Mr. Wilson said. Mrs. Hall is a hairdresser and her husband is a nurse, he said.
Mr. Wilson is self-employed, and his wife, Hilda, works in real estate, he said, so they have more flexibility. In fact, the couple has left their home in Florida to dedicate their time to finding Mrs. Parker.
Neal Brown, pastor at Cedar Hill Baptist Church in Fort Oglethorpe and member of Southern Cross Ministries -- an organization that makes chaplains available to emergency responders in North Georgia -- spoke at Mrs. Parker's vigil Thursday.
It helps to have faith, he said.
"Of course first of all, if the family has a religious background, they can go to their church and draw strength from there, draw strength from the Lord," Mr. Brown said.
But therapy can also come from the everyday.
"Get plenty of rest," he said. "Eat all the right foods and try to make your life as normal as possible."
He suggested spending some time alone, but said it is important not to become isolated from family and friends.
"Talk about it," he said. "And if you don't have anyone to talk to, write about it, type it into the computer. That kind of therapy will help you deal with the tragedy. It helps you verbalize things maybe you are holding in."
Family and friends have said the uncertainty is the hardest to bear. They want closure.
Tom Bissonette, counselor with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's counseling and career planning center, said "not knowing the status of a loved one is difficult."
"Studies have shown that people, especially after the initial shock, become more depressed and stay depressed longer with the possibility than with the certainty of a loss," he said. "Under these circumstances, we cannot grieve nor celebrate. We can only wait and worry.
Mr. Bissonette reiterated that talking about the situation is important.
"Talking to a counselor may help," he said. "The counselor can help prepare us for the worst and best scenarios. If the result is tragic then the counselor can help with the grief process.
"Coping doesn't mean the absence of suffering. It simply means we can keep going despite our suffering."
E-mail Chloe Morrison at firstname.lastname@example.org