"When a missing person doesn't appear after weeks or months, the added psychological stress on the families increases. Psychologists call this phenomenon 'complicated grief' due to the traumatic nature of the death or disappearance and the obstructions to its resolution," she said.
Feeling of confusion
For Lee Heist, the news that his ex-wife had been found alive in Florida was one of confusion and ambiguity.
"My reaction was extremely mixed. Several reactions went through me. They all raced through me, and I couldn't grab one. It was just confusion for the first hour of so," he said.
Still, he also felt vindicated. Those who believed he was involved in Brenda Heist's disappearance now know the truth.
"The hardest thing I had to deal with was, the families of some of my children's friends would not let them play with them, because of what they thought of me. That just tore me apart. I hope they've learned a lesson not to prejudge," he said.
Brenda Heist is currently in "protective custody" said Becky Herrin, spokeswoman for the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, who added that she could not offer any further information.
CNN's attempts to reach Brenda Heist were unsuccessful.
No charges have been filed in the case.
"There's nothing illegal about her walking away from her family," Schofield said. "I'm happy she's all right. I'm happy for the family, but now we're forced to think about the wasted manpower that went into this, the hours and money spent on this investigation, the time and effort."
Heist's missing person flyer has remained posted on the wall in Schofield's office for 11 years. Now he can finally close a case that has been open for more than a decade.
Life goes on
For Lee Heist and his two children, life goes on.
Their daughter, 20, is now a sophomore in college.
Their son is a college graduate and is applying to a police academy, said the Lititz police news release.
While neither he nor his children have contacted Brenda Heist since she was discovered, Lee Heist said he would not have a problem with it.
"I don't see where my communicating with her would be productive for either one of us. But if she's healthy and wants to talk to the kids, and they want to talk to her, I will make sure they can visit her," he said.
Such a reunion, especially after 11 years, will likely prove challenging for both Brenda Heist and her estranged children.
"Ambiguity can persist even in cases that result in reunification. Robbed of so many years, they have to learn anew how to relate to each other," Meredith said.
Ultimately, Lee Heist said, he decided to leave his anger behind and chose to forgive his ex-wife years ago.