With so many people across the Northern Rivers having lost their homes, possessions, pets and in some cases loved ones in the recent flooding, it can be hard for others to know what to say or how to respond without causing more emotional damage. Here are some suggestions for those dealing with crisis-related grief.
Touching and hugging is a natural human response in situations of pain, which has been complicated by COVID in recent years and is also problematic for those in trauma. If you don’t know a person well, remember that touch can be a trigger for people with PTSD, so ask first before touching or hugging.
It’s also a good idea to get consent before offering a lot of ideas about what to do next, and potential solutions. People in extreme grief are in the moment, so try to be in that moment with them. If the moment is very dark, try to share that, without skipping over the severity of what they’ve experienced.
Don’t keep jumping to the future or the past.
In a disaster situation, it can sometimes be more helpful for those who have been through the same crisis to share their experiences, rather than trying to explain it to outsiders. Facilitate opportunities for this to happen if it is needed.
Situations that seem nightmare-like can be processed better into ‘reality’ in some cases if there is documentation of what has occurred, such as photos, but for some people too much imagery and discussion of the crisis can itself be triggering.
Ask before sharing, and be sensitive to the response.
Continually asking people who have suffered major loss how they are going is not helpful. The person has the choice of responding with a meaningless word or two or actually thinking about the question, which can often cause more trauma, especially if they have to do it over and over again with multiple individuals each day.
Comparing losses and disasters across regions and times is not necessarily helpful. Try to respect the individual experience of the person you are with, and let them process their individual grief in their own way. Listening and showing you understand can be the best thing.
What seems small to one person can be a huge loss for someone else.
Similarly, going on about how well people are coping is not necessarily helpful. When community-wide losses have occurred, many will be experiencing feelings of guilt, shame and anger which can be triggered by these sorts of comments.
It’s okay to ask questions about what has happened, to gain better understanding. If people don’t want to discuss it, don’t press it. If they do want to discuss painful things, don’t stop them.
Everyone has different ways of recovering from trauma, so try to find out what helps, and assist with that, even if it’s not what you might do in that situation. What worked for you in the past might not work for them, so don’t push solutions.
It all comes down to being there, listening, and not trying to ‘solve’ the situation. While immediate practical help may be extremely useful, emotional help is by necessity slow and complex.
Remember that with floods in particular, the business of throwing all of your possessions out on the lawn before they become toxic is extremely traumatic.
Objects carry associations, memories, and connections with others. What looks like a random piece of junk to you can be a precious and unique object to the person you are helping.
Handle these things and their people with care.