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Without complete certainty, families of passengers on Malaysian jet will always cling to hope, UB trauma expert says

Release Date: July 30, 2015

“It is a really hard thing to grieve, because you are left with a question mark. So much of our grieving process involves physicality, such as seeing the body, and that’s not present here, which makes it very difficult for the families to gain closure.”
Nancy Smyth, professor and dean of Social Work
University at Buffalo
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Without physical evidence, it is very hard for families to gain closure, says UB's Nancy Smyth.

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Though it has been more than a year of fruitless searches, many family members of those lost on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 will cling to hope that their loved ones will return home, says Nancy Smyth, dean and professor in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work.

And that is why identifying the debris – with complete certainty – as wreckage from MH370 is so important.

While investigators are confident debris found on a remote island in the Indian Ocean is from a Boeing 777, the same model aircraft as Flight 370, that level of certainty is not enough, Smyth says.

“Knowing for sure that this is the flight debris will be vital for families in providing them closure,” says Smyth, whose research focuses on psychological trauma. “Right now, however, the level of certainty is still too low to be helpful.”

Denial and disbelief are a part of grief, Smyth said, and these families have had to deal with speculation for a very long time. At this point, she said, they are probably exhausted.

“Think about the popular movies that have come out, like ‘Castaway’, that could make family members wonder if their loved ones are in a situation like that,” she said. “It is a really hard thing to grieve, because you are left with a question mark. So much of our grieving process involves physicality, such as seeing the body, and that’s not present here, which makes it very difficult for the families to gain closure.”

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