The fact is that people experience truly terrible things every single day. They get the unwanted phone call in the middle of the night, the bad news from the doctor in the emergency room, the visit from the officers that makes their whole lives stop and everything has to be readjusted before it can begin again. For each individual these are horrendous life changing events but for society at large they are but small pebbles dropped into the water. The ripples affect the immediate family, friends and colleagues but are soon forgotten about by others.
But a public tragedy such as a disaster, air crash, terrorist attack or mass shooting affects us differently. For the victims and their loved ones, their grief is given much more attention than is normal and this results in a magnification of the ripples. We are all involved in some sense. But in what way are we involved?
In a personal tragedy those affected by a crisis are brought together to encourage and support one another in their time of grief. There is really no such thing as a care-giver or a care-receiver, all are grieving and helping others to grieve to some extent. By being there for each other, they acknowledge that the loss of this loved one was important, it will affect their lives and they need each other to get through it. In a public tragedy this is much more difficult to do. The ripples are far more widespread, traveling through the airwaves, news reports, and social media. Those in the local community come together but what about those on the fringes?
It is at the fringe, the edge of the ripples, the people who are connected somehow and yet are not at the center of attention, where the greatest risk of trauma lies. They are affected by the tragedy and yet do not receive the support they need to get through it.
What can you do to recover from public tragedy?
1. Seek out support. - find someone with whom you can talk about the tragedy and how it is affecting you. Sometimes it helps to seek out clergy or a chaplain to talk about the hard questions.
2. Limit media intake. - if the story is big and compelling the news media will look for every possible angle to cover it. This is not all bad, but will probably overwhelm your ability to process it all. Turn off the tv and do something else to give yourself time to catch up.
3. Do something practical in response. – visit the site, send flowers, make a charitable contribution in memory of the victims, volunteer for a day in their name.
For those who are closer, take part in candlelight vigils, memorial services, place flowers and be there for each other. It is not just a show of support for the families who are grieving, but a show of support for all of us who are grieving the loss in our own way as well.