Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Emotional Aftermath of Crisis

"The stench of dead bodies fills the air."

That quote from a report about the massive earthquake damage in Indonesia is the very essence of urban disaster. It's the aftermath of whatever caused the crisis that is so bad. Long after the earth stops shaking, the residual effect of the damage lingers. And not just for days or weeks, but for months and even years. A lifetime, for those who lost loved-ones.

Local disaster management currently has the death toll listed at 540 but, according to officials from the United Nations, more than 4,000 victims might be buried in the rubble of collapsed buildings. Search and rescue teams are working around the clock in concert with the military, but as of this posting very few bodies have been recovered. The rest are still counted among the missing.

Families of the missing are left to wonder and hope, but eventually hope turns to despair. Their lives are upside-down, not only physically as a result of the earthquake, but emotionally from not knowing the fate of their family members and friends.

Houses and buildings can be replaced … loved-ones cannot. After the initial physical needs are met for survivors (medical attention, shelter, water, food, sanitation), there is both an immediate and long-term need for some kind of comfort to help them through the great loss they have suffered. Here are some things that can help:

  • Personal faith — A belief in God and in an afterlife is the greatest comfort. If you share faith with a congregation, connect with that group as soon as possible and draw upon their support.
  • Someone to talk with — Sometimes you need a shoulder to cry on, someone you trust enough to share your grief with, someone to hug you and hold you long and hard.
  • A shared activity — Getting involved with other people in an activity can help break the cycle of emotional despair, at least for a while. 
  • A return to normal routines as quickly as possible — This brings a sense of stability and purpose that can be very healing. 
  • Embrace the gift of your survival — Demonstrate gratitude for your own life by reaching out and offering to assist others who are in worse shape than you are. Give the crisis a purpose. 

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