Ask Golden Willow

Community trauma, grief and healing

By Ted Wiard
For The Taos News
Posted 1/30/19

Dear Dr. Ted: A couple of weeks ago, there was an avalanche in Taos Ski Valley that claimed two lives. I was one of the many people who participated in the search on the mountain, and I have been feeling every emotion possible.

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Ask Golden Willow

Community trauma, grief and healing

Posted

Dear Dr. Ted: A couple of weeks ago, there was an avalanche in Taos Ski Valley that claimed two lives. This tragedy impacted nearby local communities and had national and even international media coverage. I was one of the many people who participated in the search on the mountain, and I have been feeling every emotion possible. My question: Is it normal to be so connected to something that I wasn't truly associated with, and what is community or collective grief? Thanks, Mark

Dear Mark: I hear those questions are being asked by people all over the country right now and I appreciate you conveying these questions to me via this article. My heart goes out to the family members and friends of those who died and every person who has felt loss from this situation.

When a crisis hits a community, it directly impacts the lives of so many people, including those who were directly involved in rescue, witnesses, individuals worried if their loved ones were safe, employees, first responders, schools - and the ripple effect just continues. There is a collective impact in which each person will have different feelings that arise even as this is absorbed and processed. Emotions such as sadness, fear, empathy, guilt, relief, love and all other emotions may show up. You do not get to control your emotions as they just bubble up, but you do have the opportunity to choose what you do with those emotions.

Being proactive through service, self-care and connection with other people has the best results in decreasing post-traumatic stress disorder as well as promoting healing. Healing happens through slowly easing away from the hyper-focus on the event itself and allowing life to seep back in, while building a new foundation. It does not mean the event is forgotten, but it does not confine or define who you are or what makes up the community. Even though your brain wants to make sense out of the event, rarely does this happen, but you can make more sense out of your life from the event. Possibly you respect nature to a new level, have higher care for family and community or simply let small things go and focus on the important aspects of life such as healing and building a loving community.

To directly answer your question, yes, it is normal to feel all the different emotions that may arise no matter how you were involved in the situation, from actually being there, to hearing or reading about it. There is "collective grief" as a community moves through the grief process, and hopefully experiences a stronger bond as we set aside differences and are available for one another during difficult and joyful times with compassion. My heart goes out to each and every person who is walking through his or her own and collective grief process at this time.

Thank you for the question. I wish you well. Until next week, take care.

Direct any questions to Dr. Ted Wiard, EdD, LPCC, CGC, founder of Golden Willow Retreat at GWR@newmex.com.

This column seeks to help educate our community about emotional healing through grief. People may write questions to Golden Willow Retreat and they will be answered privately to you and possibly as a future article for others. Please list a first name that grants permission for printing.

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