Foundation, reminding you that a fully-integrated approach for assisting survivors of
traumatic loss involves a balance of head and heart. Wednesday Wisdom is written
and copyrighted by Carolyn V. Coarsey, Ph.D. and distributed by the Family
Assistance Education & Research Foundation Inc., fafonline.org. Reprint is available
with written permission from the Foundation.
Myth #4 – "Is it True That Survivors of Traumatic
Loss Should not Make Changes in Their Lives for
One Year, or Maybe Two, After the Crisis?"
Nobody can give you wiser advice than yourself.
— Cicero, Roman Philosopher
Well-intentioned family members, friends, members of the clergy, therapists, and
practically everyone who encounters a survivor in the aftermath of a traumatic event
offers them advice. And a very common theme, which is often spoken as if it were
a law, pertains to leaving one’s life the same, i.e., “Don’t make major changes in your
life for at least one to two years.”
Interviews with trauma survivors indicates that this advice causes great distress.
They are trying to live a life that has already been completely changed by the
trauma, so this expectation on the part of well-meaning others often becomes a
major source of second assaults (unintentional harm).
Trauma for both primary survivors (those directly involved in a crisis), and family
members of those who have died, leaves them feeling that they have lost control
over their lives. Recovery involves figuring out a way to regain a sense of control
and rebuild a new life the best way they can. In the author’s interviews of passengers
where post-crash rescue was prolonged due to site conditions, and in accidents
where the circumstances made those aboard aware of the impending crash, the
most common thoughts described in those harrowing moments where they felt death
was imminent were about the changes they would make im their lives,
should they survive.
For passengers who survived, common themes involved getting married, getting
divorced, retiring early to spend more time with family, having a child—numerous
such examples were described. All felt that these changes would put them on track
for the life they really wanted to live, if they survived the crash. Discussion about
the survivors’ post-accident lives showed that despite the disapproval of others, most
carried out their plans and began living their lives their way, as most saw the trauma
as a wake-up call.
Family members whose loved ones die in a tragedy face changes that take many
people years in which to adjust. With the death of a child for example, parents often
confront a future without grandchildren and must accept that many of their dreams
and plans died with the child. All losses, be it of a partner, spouse, sibling, or
parent, result in their own unique and distinct characteristics of grief following the
tragedy. Coming to terms with these changes, not unlike with primary survivors,
requires an acceptance by the family survivor of what has been drastically altered.
As one mother described it, following the death of her son in an airline crash, “I now
must see what I have left that I get to keep, and what I no longer have—and I must
accept these changes and live out my life the best way I can for those on earth
whom I still love and need me.”
Change and traumatic loss are interwoven. Those who support survivors as they
navigate the grief process would do well to listen, offer support, and recognize
that life for the person involved has forever changed – and not by their choice. The
path they choose to follow is best directed by their own feelings about how they
can best survive in a foreign environment they could never have imagined.
For leaders who oversee training for family assistance teams, it is necessary to
train Care Team responders to avoid giving advice to survivors under any
circumstances. The best approach is always to provide options, choices, and
information that facilitates informed decision-making. Also, remind responders that
blame and anger toward the company where the disaster has occurred is
intensified by second assaults, which most often result when anyone gets in the
way of the survivor’s instinctive reactions for healing in the aftermath of trauma.
© 2017 Higher Resources, Inc./Aviem International, Inc.
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