Today my heart is heavy as I think about the loss of life, personal injuries and great devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian. This will be a hurricane that every resident of The Bahamas, and especially those in Abaco and Grand Bahama, will never forget. A fellow colleague from New Providence visited Abaco and Grand Bahama after the hurricane to assess the damage and said: “What I saw has changed my life forever; especially after looking into the sad faces of those who have lost members of their families, their homes and all of their belongings.” One person said that this is the third time he has lost everything due to a hurricane. That’s painful.
Many of us who have not been hit by the hurricane are suffering from “survivor’s guilt”. “People suffering from survivor’s guilt often push themselves to the limit trying to help.” We also know that children, in particular, resent the shattering of their routine. That resentment may manifest itself in enormous guilt, nightmares, temper tantrums and problems at school.
Although most of us do not have someone who died in the hurricane or endured the loss of property, we all are mourning. We are feeling the pain. We all are mourning, even those summer residents and visitors who love our dear country. It is extremely important to know that after a hurricane (after the loss of normalcy, loved ones and property), there is a natural grieving process – denial, questioning, acceptance and recovery. Those who were directly in the path of the hurricane and even many others must be allowed to mourn in their own way. People mourn differently.
Please note that what many are experiencing now is only the tip of the iceberg. The frustration, anger, anxiety, stress, hopelessness will increase in the weeks, months and, for some, even years. Many are now experiencing symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – the reliving of a past painful event when exposed to a similar event(s) or just thinking about the past event. To explain further, the symptoms can include but are not limited to:
• Spontaneous or cued recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic event(s).
• Recurrent distressing dreams in which the content or effect (i.e. feeling) of the dream is related to the events (note: In children, there may be frightening dreams without recognizable content).
• Flashbacks or other dissociative reactions in which the individual feels or acts as if the traumatic events are recurring. Taken from an article on PTSD from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
For those of us who are in the position to provide support or comfort, or to give help of some kind, here are a few things not to say to those who have experienced loss or are in pain due to Hurricane Dorian:
1. “It could have been worse.” This does not come across well to someone who is in pain. What can be worse than losing mom and dad, all of your family, your house and car? It is insensitive to say, “It could have been worse.”
2. Avoid limiting what you do to “Let’s pray about it” if you cannot provide tangible help. Most time the greatest or first need is not prayer; it is food, water, comfort, shelter.
3. It is also painful to say “I understand” or “I know what you are going through”, especially if you have never actually experienced what they have experienced. If you have been through similar devastation, then your experience can be a great connecting point. If you haven’t experienced similar loss or pain, please do not say “I understand”.
4. Here is another common phrase said by many spiritual leaders: “We are only alive because of God’s goodness and mercy.” Remember, you are talking to people who have experienced great loss. This statement causes confusion and it plunges a dagger into the hearts of those who are mourning. They would rightly say, “Why then am I alive? I know of many Godly people who have died.” Are we saying that those people who are dead did not experience “God’s goodness and mercy” before they died?
5. “God knows best.” I know this and all of these statements are common to say. But far too long we have not paused to think how what we are saying is impacting others and whether or not what we say truly reflects a loving, understanding God who cares. When we say “God knows best” to someone who is mourning, it places the blame in God’s hands.
6. Here is my final statement not to say. Run away from the notion that God is punishing Abaco and Grand Bahama “because of their sins”. Why in the world do we love to blame God for all the pain, letting the “pain creator”, Satan, stand innocent? God is not the creator of pain and misery. It’s sad when spiritual leaders utilize this time of mourning to say that a national tragedy has only occurred because the “people are wicked”. It is a theological error and a grossly insensitive statement to make. Pain does not always come because someone has sinned.
Perhaps the best thing most of us can do during this time of pain and morning is to just be silent with our mouths and active with our hands. The title of a lovely song by the English group The Tremeloes, founded in 1958, illustrates my point. The title and main theme of the song is “Silence is Golden, but My Eyes Still See”. Although while compassionately listening to someone who is mourning due to the hurricane, one will notice the needs of the person and provide the needs or direct them to the source to get help. Keeping silent may be the best thing you can do.
For those of us who have not been directly hit by the hurricane or who have not been seriously crippled with loss, it is healthy and important to resume your regular way of living. Go to work, play, laugh and still reach out to others. Also, avoid watching or listening to non-stop, continuous coverage of the hurricane. This can increase anxiety and stress. Turn off the radio or television and go back in intervals to get the updates. Remember, silence is golden.