The Sad Non-Ending for Gabby Petito’s Family

Unless you have been out of the country for the past couple months, you will no doubt know something about the saga of Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old woman who was missing for three weeks or so before her remains were found in Wyoming, and Brian Laundrie, the 23-year-old ex-fiancé of Gabby Petito, who was missing for about a month before his remains were discovered last week. The long and short is that Gabby and Brian were engaged and decided to take a road trip to some national parks. At least one witness saw the pair arguing, and in early September Brian returned to his home in Florida without Gabby. A hunt for Gabby’s remains began and Brian went to ground. Gabby’s remains were discovered on September 22, and a manhunt for Brian ensued, though it was fruitless. Then on October 21, the skeletal remains of Brian Laundrie were discovered in Florida.

This whole situation is awful, but there’s something that makes it even more tragic than it should be: a lack of closure.

The Discomfort of the Unknowable

Information is one of the most powerful things in human existence. Sure, social, political, and financial power and wealth are way up there, too, but think about information for a second. Information opens doors, it can create power and wealth, and even the information that doesn’t lead to power and wealth can still have a healing effect on a troubled mind. I have had some experience interacting with people who lost family members in unclear ways. The one thing they have all had in common is that they just wanted to know exactly what happened.

Where was Gabby Petito's body found?

I’ll give you a quick example then get back to Gabby Petito. When I first got out of law school I worked doing some civil litigation, mainly personal injury and property damage work. I saw many, many families of deceased plaintiffs get large sums of money, and it never really made them feel much better. However, for the families that got to know more about exactly how their loved one died and why they died the way they did, their emotional loads were less burdensome. They were, for lack of a better term, happier than those who received a similar amount of money but not the same level of information.

I’m not a psychologist, but my theory is that the human brain does not like an incomplete story. If you know something and you believe you have the whole story, that’s one thing. Your brain can’t know what it doesn’t know it doesn’t know, right? But if you have a story and you know you are missing information, that is infuriating. Moreover, if you know that you are missing information and you also know you will never be able to get the information you’re missing, that’s downright cruel. But that’s the situation that the families of Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie are in.

And look, I’m not defending Brian Laundrie here. Odds are he killed Gabby Petito in some remote part of the West and coldly left her remains in an area where he did not think she would be found. But we don’t know that for sure, and that’s the heartbreak. That heartbreak extends to Brian’s family, too. Think about his parents. One day your son comes home from a trip under mysterious circumstances, goes to ground, never talks to you again, then a month later his completely decomposed remains are found not too far from your house? Come on! No parents should ever have to outlive their children, but especially in such odd circumstances.

Of course the grief of the Laundries will be matched and exceeded only by the grief of the Petitos.

Open but Never Shut

The Petitos last saw their daughter before she left on her trip. They didn’t get to talk to her, see her, interact with her, or know much about her experiences before she died. I don’t want to send anyone into a tailspin on a Monday morning, but think about all the people you love and how bad you would feel if you found out one died and you hadn’t talked to them in a while. It’d be awful, right? Imagine that person is your daughter or one of your parents or a sibling or spouse. Crushing.

Brian Laundrie's notebook

So the Petitos did not get any sort of goodbye. They got concern, media coverage, and sadness, but not goodbye.

Then the one person who could have provided some answers was found dead last week. Brian Laundrie was likely the only living person who knew exactly what happened to Gabby Petito, and now he is gone, too. All of that information died with Brian Laundrie. The Petitos were already never going to know the whole story because they would only have gotten one side of it, but now they won’t get any side of the story. What they know is that their Gabby is dead and Brian Laundrie is dead, too. They don’t know what happened, they don’t know what went wrong, and they don’t even get to know whether it was Brian that killed Gabby.

I don’t know anything about the Petitos. I don’t know if they are rich or poor, well-adjusted or malcontent. But what I can safely guess is that they would likely trade all of their possessions if they could just find out exactly what happened to Gabby. Information is powerful. The Petitos will forever have an unfinished story in their brains, taunting and gnawing and ebbing and flowing until they, like Gabby, are no longer for this world. It’s not fair. It’s absolutely unfair that a family should have to live like that, with grief being compounded by the eternally unknowable.

That is what makes this already sad saga even sadder. The Petitos will not have the closure they need to properly process the events of the last couple of months. They will have a hole in their souls from now until the end of time, and the information that could possibly have repaired that hole died with Brian Laundrie. However you think of the various tragedies of man—prayer, meditation, therapeutic exercises, or something different—take some time to think about the Petitos and hope for their sake they are able to get some sort of closure. Every story needs and ending, and an unfinished story will drive anyone to madness. Closure can prevent the madness, and even incomplete information can help for a little while.

The Petitos and the Laundries will never be the same but will remain linked with one another for many years to come. The most we can hope for is that each family is strong enough to persist and properly process the incredible losses that have befallen them.

Makeshift cross found in area where crews searched for Gabby Petito | KUTV

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