Tragedy doesn’t make an appointment. It attacks! A terrifying surprise that explodes in the midst of a family. Tragedy brings with it multiple consequences as well…financial disaster, depression, guilt and blame. Devastating fallout! Marriages fall apart, family members commit suicide, personalities change. Yet tragedies occur daily. Tornadoes and earthquakes rip apart communities, car accidents claim thousands of lives, and children drink poisons or drown in swimming pools. People kill their friends and families, co-workers and peers. Here is what helped me make it through a horrendous time, so should it happens to you or to a close friend. You have some suggestions to fall back on.
Words are not necessary– a loving presence conveys support. Initial shock and denial are numbing and intensely painful. When we received the dreadful news of our daughter-in-law’s murder, we called our minister immediately. He and his wife came over and sat with us silently in the middle of the night. They made coffee, experienced our grief and comforted us with their presence.
Ask people you trust to handle immediate logistical problems. We had to cancel plane reservations, and make new ones. Airlines offer a reduced fare for situations when grieving families need to rush in an emergency. My brother, who travels a lot, made reservations for us. Caring friends wanted to keep our children and pets. Don’t hesitate to ask or accept.
Keep inspirational reading with you. Ask your minister or a caring friend to loan you an inspirational book if necessary. I found the book of Psalms particularly helpful, as well as a book loaned to me from an Al-Anon friend. Our minister mailed a wonderful book he had written. Another minister had
comforting words about the sweet relief experienced when dying.
Keep a journal. I purchased a thick, spiral notebook and kept it with me. In it put information as well as feelings, events, and questions. I taped business cards of police, investigators, and wrote down addresses of helpful strangers. My portable office became invaluable.
Buy thank you notes. Thank you notes help you to focus on the love and support you receive during this painful time rather than your helplessness or loneliness. Strangers brought us food and took us to dinner. Our church sent flowers to our hotel room. Friends held mass at home for our daughter-in-law. People who admired her came to see us, gave us religious pictures, and bought us sodas. I concentrated on building a new support system by writing immediate thank you notes. When we returned home, more thoughtfulness awaited us including food, vitamins, and an invitation to go cherry picking (a perfect thing to do when processing grief).
Stay connected to home. If the tragedy takes you away from home, arrange a time that you will talk with a calm, clear- headed family member daily. My brother called me at four every afternoon. I looked forward to his call and found comfort in his familiar voice. I took my laptop computer with me which enabled receiving caring messages via email. With my brother’s phone calls and emails, our home community stayed informed of our trauma. They organized needed support as soon as we returned. The church “casserole brigade” had food ready, gift baskets, cards and prayers. A special service at our church and a prayer service with our Marriage Encounter Group provided us with loving friends who listened and cried with us as we worked through our emotional pain. One can’t carry such a burden alone.
In the months that follow…. Tragedies attract media, curious people, gossips, and people intrigued by dramatic life events. Sometimes people who had nothing to do with the tragedy become obsessed with the details. With our tragedy, information changed constantly upsetting our perspectives and tearing our shreds of hope. Phone calls and emails came from strange sources. Be careful not to answer media questions or give out information to the wrong people.
A year might not be enough…. Grieving takes time. Any healing does. For us, ongoing legal trials fester the guilt, doubt, and confusion. Even though life has basically returned to “normal,” my energy level has not. I seem to accomplish far less than before. I remember having a long “to do” list and happily checking off task after task. Now, I check off two. (Three if I count my exercise.) My focus has become a wild animal, difficult to train. Yesterday, I had to write down take a shower. Initially, I asked friends to take me places as a distraction. Immediately after I asked, it seemed as if I lacked time to go anywhere. Time became unmanageable. I let go of my career goals, a difficult challenge for an achiever like me. Making sales and booking presentations did not seem relevant any more.
Even now, a year and a half later, I am still in the healing process only now I have a deep understanding of what other people are going through.
Let go of what you didn’t do to prevent the tragedy. Focus on what you can to help others now. Both my husband and myself have felt called to serve people in new ways. A year after the tragedy occurred, my husband got laid off from his lucrative computer-consulting job. He wants to make a career change to teach high school. I took volunteer training to answer hotline phones for sexual abuse and family violence. The experience has been rewarding, I’m sorry I waited until now to do this. Both of these activities stem from the helplessness we felt after our tragedy. Even our children respect us for taking them on. We know our values are changing.
It has been said that our tragedies make us who we are. We would agree with Corita Kent, “Flowers grow out of dark moments.”