By Steven Norris
Since the storms of January 12, members of our community have shared their experiences coping with the tragedy and its aftermath. For some, it was a trauma that they have been reliving repeatedly. They may still experience the sounds and sites whenever they close their eyes. They struggle with a lack of motivation and have been living in a daze.
Now is the time to remember the stages of grief that we often experience following a tragic event or loss. Understanding what is a normal response might help us all navigate through this time together. Remember that these stages are not always experienced in order (we can jump from one to the other) and they may last from minutes to days or weeks.
Denial, the first stage of grief, often includes a deep state of shock as we try to comprehend a world that no longer makes any sense. This is a coping mechanism that keeps our brains from completely shutting down and helps make survival possible. As one expert put it, “There is a grace in denial. It is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle.”
Anger is another stage in healing. The tricky thing about anger is that it may extend beyond the immediate situation. We might lash out at friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, doctors, relief workers, volunteers, and even at God. While denial can often paralyze us, anger may feel like moving forward. However, anger is like a 100-yard-dash in the midst of a marathon — its effects are short-lived.
Bargaining often comes in the form of prayers like, “God, if you will just help me get my house repaired, I promise that I will use it for ministry and welcoming others.” We want things to return to the way that they were before the tragedy. We wish that we could just turn back time and do things differently. In doing so, we live (and get stuck) in the past.
Depression may set in when our attention returns to the present and we recognize the depth of our pain and loss. Experts remind us that this kind of depression is not a sign of mental illness, but is an appropriate response to great loss. Those experiencing this kind of depression may feel as though they are in a constant fog, wondering if there is any hope in going on, and they often want to withdraw from everyday life altogether. Many of us are experiencing situations that are extremely depressing, so this is an understandable response.
Acceptance comes as we seek to put the broken pieces back together and move forward. This is not the same thing as saying everything is “OK.” We may never be “OK” with the new reality in which we find ourselves. However, acceptance will come as we seek to live in a world that has been fundamentally changed and can never go back to exactly what it was. As we do this, there will be good days and bad days. Instead of ignoring of denying our feelings, we listen to what our bodies and our minds tell us, allowing that to shape us and help us grow.
If grief becomes overwhelming, we have resources in our community that can help. Don’t be afraid to reach out. We are all in this together.