IN the wake of incidents like those in New York, Boston, and now, Orlando, there comes a time when the help is gone and the lives of those who survived the attack, or those who had people die in the attack must go on. The question is always raised, “How can you go on after something like that?” Grief reactions for those left behind can be extremely severe, exceeding what one would classify as “normal grief”. Intense sadness may give way to anger at the perpetrator, those who brought the perpetrator to justice, and even those who may have been responsible for a loved one being in that particular place at that particular time. When the targeted population is one that has been marginalized by different factions of society, the grief, and even the process of finding grief help, may become further complicated as anger, guilt, rage, blame, and sometimes even shame become the emotions of choice. These raw and often vociferous emotions are usually accompanied by disbelief, confusion, and withdrawal as the survivors strive to seek meaning or even simple understanding of the reasoning behind the vicious attack and as they attempt to reconcile reality with the world they presumed existed before the attack.
Americans from all races, ages, national origins, and religions lifted up those in Orlando on Sunday. Church services and prayer times were filled with people crying out to God for those who were killed and those who survived. On Sunday this wasn’t some hate crime targeting the LGBT population because of their sexual orientation. Instead, it was a terrorist attack targeting fellow Americans in what has been labeled as “the worst mass shooting on American soil ever.” Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and yes, even some atheists, prayed to a God they may not know, for people they may not know, and came together in solidarity over the sheer barbarism of what occurred early Sunday morning.
As a grief counselor I have worked with people who were experiencing the shock and trauma of sudden death, but never have I worked with anyone who has survived this type of attack; so my advice to those who may know someone affected by this tragedy is rather general. Remember these guidelines as you encounter those needing your help:
1. There will be some inability to accept the reality of the sudden loss. During this time the mind is overwhelmed and struggling to cope; so, it is vital that you remain patient in your dealings with these survivors. Be there for them and guide them gently through periods of disbelief or confusion.
2. There may be the urge to lash out at others based on the ethnicity of the perpetrator. This can present itself as hate speech or even physical attempts to hurt others. Although this is normal, it is important that those around these survivors be vigilant and aware of these urges and make necessary calls for help if needed. Encourage the venting of this rage through words. This can serve the purpose of lowering the intensity of these emotions, and reduce the possibility of resorting to physical violence.
3. There is a certain fear and vulnerability that follows attacks like this. Survivors need the stability of knowing they have support and protection from those around them.
4. Survivors will respond to these events in different ways, and in some instances they may lash out at each other damaging relationships that could be helpful and therapeutic for the survivors. It is important that survivors realize that they were all affected by this tragedy, and solidarity is much more therapeutic than divisiveness.
5. It may be that survivors blame themselves for the death of their friends in the attack. The shoulda, woulda, couldas can destroy even the soundest of minds. It is important that survivors begin to understand that nothing they could have done could have changed the outcome of this terrible tragedy. Watch for withdrawal from fellow survivors and other family members as a sign of these conflicting emotions.
6. Don’t allow the tragedy of the event to become overshadowed by the stigma of the lifestyle of those affected. This was an attack on Americans, and we should rally around them and support them as such.
7. There will be an overabundance of law enforcement and media attention to every aspect of this tragedy. There will be theories tossed about concerning they “why” of the attack; and, some of these theories may unearth larger and even more astonishing reasons behind this attack. Media is, and will be, covering this attack with every resource available during this “news cycle.” At times it may seem that, as a survivor, you are unable to escape the replays and Monday night quarterbacking of so-called experts as they attempt to experience their fleeting fifteen minutes of fame with their theories of “why”. It may be necessary to distance oneself from the media for a period of time to provide the correct environment of healing for you; others may find that the constant replays and stories help them process and make sense of that horrible night. Either way, be there to support those affected.
With events of this nature, there is always an impact to people who were not directly affected by this tragedy. This attack may cause difficulty for survivors of other terrorist attacks as vivid memories resurface of the fear, vulnerability, confusion, and rage of their attacks. Be aware of those around you who may have been connected with other attacks and be ready to continue support for them as needed.
Caldwell & Cowan Funeral Home offers grief support groups every Thursday of the month (with the exception of the fifth) from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm. These groups are open to the public and free of charge. If you, or someone you know, has been impacted by this terrible tragedy we are here to help. Call 770-786-7062 and ask for someone from the Grief and Bereavement Program.