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.
Cruise Line Examples
"We are aware that very few people are willfully cruel, but many
are ignorantly cruel."
-Whiteagle, Spiritual Teacher
A few weeks ago, we heard from a friend of the Foundation who told us about an
issue he knew we would find of equal concern. He had learned that an article of
personal clothing of an employee who died in an airline crash had been made
available for sale over a public website–not by the employee’s family. This news
caused a great deal of discussion among our team, as survivors have educated us
on the critical role that personal belongings play in healthy recovery after
tragedies–and how desperate most family members are to claim any and all
belongings of their loved ones after their deaths.
We understand that before the passing of the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance
Act of 1996, there was the inconsistent handling of the belongings left behind in
airline crashes. Fortunately, survivors spoke out about the second assaults in this
crucial area, and today interviews with families and survivors show significant
improvements in this area. It was a direct result of survivor feedback that led to
these vast changes. One of the many examples of family members who spoke out
was Mrs. Susan Smith whose son, Lieutenant Paul J. Smith, III died in the ValuJet
crash May 11, 1996. She wrote a letter to government officials about many of the
issues their family struggled with, including reference to her son's personal
belongings. In the excerpt below she is describing her visit to the area where
passenger and crew member belongings were displayed after the crash.
"We were allowed a visit to the room at the Radisson where the unidentified personal
effects were displayed, all we found was a button from his military formal dress
uniform (that uniform had been packed in a garment bag for the trip). It troubled us
that we found nothing else and thought it quite strange that one small button was all
that was recovered. Having expressed our concern to one of the ValuJet pilots who
was volunteering his time there, a week following he mailed us our son’s tattered
and torn military jacket, slacks and shoulder boards. That was so very kind of him,
but why were these items hidden away in a separate location and why were we not
allowed to view these “hidden” items with the other personal effects? Isn’t there
someone, anyone who can give us correct information about what is transpiring?”
Susan later expressed her gratitude for what the pilot chose to do once he
overheard her story. She could only wonder how many families were not so fortunate
to receive belongings of their loved-ones. For many of the families, clothing and
jewelry were the only visible and tactile connection to their deceased family
members—as most of the passengers and crew were never identified. And if they
were identified, the remains were not recognizable even if they were viewable.
In the Smith's case, two parts of Jay's hand were identified and were buried in a
casket. While being able to bury part of Jay proved to be somewhat consoling to the
family, it did not provide the visible, tangible proof of Jay's presence in the crash as
the torn and tattered uniform did.
Survivors like Susan have educated organizations and government officials on the
importance of these items, and as a result entire businesses have evolved who
specialize in the cleaning, preparation, and delivery of belongings. We realize
however, that prior to these improvements it is possible that some items may have
been discovered and retained by people who have no personal connection to them,
and no realization of their importance to a family.
At the Foundation, we encourage anyone who might be in possession of personal
belongings that are not their own to consider returning them to the family. Should
help be needed in finding family members, the Foundation will be happy
to provide such assistance.
"The two most powerful warriors are patience and time."
–Leo Tolstoy (Russian Writer, 1828-1910)
While aviation companies, cruise lines, and other organizations at risk for accidents
involving major loss of life in their operations, maintain contracts with professional
providers who collect, clean and return personal belongings, there are other times
when sensitivity toward an individual’s belongings is also much appreciated by family
members. Over the years, we have had many opportunities to learn from family
members about how organizations have helped when their died while employed.
Family members have provided numerous examples where they have appreciated
the time spent and efforts managers and supervisors made in assisting them with
obtaining their loved ones’ belongings from work, after their death. In many cases,
where possible, family members were invited into the workplace to view the desk,
locker, or work station and in some cases, they packed their loved ones’ belongings
themselves. In more than one situation, the family member was given the
opportunity to meet peers and co-workers at the workplace and share stories
about the deceased.
An example from the Cruise Line industry
In the cruise line industry, as crew members live and work together for months, even
years; very close connections and bonds are formed on board. Often, the family back
home know of these friends and co-workers or even see their pictures on social
media creating some connection with the family.
At times, when a crew member has died on board either of natural causes or a
traumatic death, when requested by the family back home, some cruise lines will fly
family to meet and board the ship to make the needed physical, emotional, and at
times spiritual connection to their loved one.
the Caribbean. The Cruise Line’s CareTeam™ became involved to support his friends
on board and family back home. Being from Eastern Europe near the Baltic sea, the
CareTeam learned from authorities that he would be sealed in a metal box when sent
back home and his family would not be able to view him by law in that country.
All efforts were made to bring the parents and sister from two different countries for
the parents to see him on last time. The Embassy and consulate were contacted to
assist the family in obtaining urgent travel documents, CareTeam™ from another
cruise line was activated to support the mother and sister, they worked with a local
church leader to help arrange a small service for the family to complete their religious
needs, and in two days, the family arrived together on this small island.
The family's final request was to see the ship and spot where their son passed away.
While the specific ship was now at sea, CareTeam™ working with shipboard leaders,
identified a very similar sister ship which would be calling into this small Caribbean
island in the next day. The collaboration of all involved, allowed the family to see and
meet crew members who did the same line of work, some from their same country,
and held a second service for their son while the ship was in port.
Although there was great logistical planning involved between CareTeam™
members, authorities, government agencies, local leaders, and shipboard
operations, there was very little hard cost to the company for all their efforts to
assist the family of the crew member.
In summary, experience has shown that in addition to the healing rituals of funerals
and memorial services, honoring deceased individuals is also served by
reconnecting family members to their personal belongings as sensitively as possible.
And when any employee death occurs, examples such as the one mentioned above
go a long way in providing lasting memories of how the employee spent their time
when away from family with peers and co-workers. All of which serves to assist
with healing from the loss.
© 2018 Higher Resources, Inc./Aviem International, Inc.
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