Just the fact that the terrorist attack took place in Paris, an international city we connect with beauty, love and pleasure, is an assault on humanity. It is like someone stole jewels from our jewel box. I first visited Paris as a teenager with my parents and quickly fell in love with the food, people and culture. I lived in San Francisco for many years and felt lucky that we had a city with a little of the cache of Paris. After the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11, I was impressed by the support given by the Europeans. I traveled to Paris shortly after 9/11 and remember being greeted with empathy, support and concern.
After 9/11 my daughter, Heidi and I worked on a Columbia University study with firefighter families killed in the terrorist attacks. As with the slaughter of over 100 people in Paris, 9/11 was a personal tragedy as well as a national tragedy. For each person who died there are an untold number of family members and friends impacted for a lifetime. As a mother who lost her 17-year-old son in an automobile accident, I felt anger at the driver, but I can only imagine what families such as those of Emily Gonzales, an American killed in Paris, are experiencing. A wanton act of terror. A vicious murder. It makes no sense. The only mistake was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This event is not only a trauma for those who have had loved ones killed but can also cause secondary trauma for those who have been involved in past events like the Sandy Hook School shooting. Below are seven tips that we learned as we worked with the 9/11 families and other families involved with traumatic loss.
Tips For Helping The Bereaved After Tragedy:
- Ask family members or trusted friends to help determine the difference between "helpful" vs. "opportunistic" people. There are some people who are drawn to traumatic situations.
- Delegate one family member or friend to be the spokesperson for the family. The press can be very aggressive with the 24-hour news cycle. If you select one person to speak on behalf of the family the press may be less aggressive.
- Try to slow down your life. Best not to rush to decisions or judgment. You may get calls from lawyers who want to represent you; put those types of decisions on hold, there is no hurry.
- Take a newsbreak. The media tends to show the same traumatic images over and over. Many of the 9/11 families found it helpful to limit time spent watching television, listening to the radio or reading the newspaper.
- Try to be patient with family and friends who may post things on social media that you feel violate your personal space. One mom had to deal with the fact that her son posted his sister's death on social media, thus informing their community before the family had arrived home from an international trip.
- Memorialize your loved ones with photographs, personal keepsakes and documents. Don't be too quick to give or throw clothing and personal reminders away. If it's too painful to look at these reminders, get a box where you can store personal items, and deal with them later.
- Reassure children that this is a random event, and that they still live in a relatively safe world. Children are not able to discern when watching television or hearing the news that it is not happening at the moment.
Also, we remind those who have suffered loss that self-care is an important aspect of getting through these horrific events. It will take a great deal of time for the details and public attention to simmer down. While it is a personal loss it is also a global tragedy and will remain in the public realm for many months. We at Open to Hope invite those who have suffered loss to reach out and receive help from others who have had similar experiences. As always, we say, "if you have lost hope, lean ours until you find your own."