I heard “largest mass shooting in U.S. history” the second morning of October and wondered why the newscaster spoke of last year’s horrific murders at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. My breath caught; another individual’s evil actions broke that infamous record.
The massacre in Las Vegas killed scores, wounded hundreds, traumatized thousands. Survivors’ face pain and scars that show and deeper scars that don’t. Too many families and friends now grieve loved ones who’ll never come home.
Such heinous, criminal incidents evoke collective sorrow. It’s awful enough when individuals (or groups) inflict irreparable harm and terror on lone victims — worse, far worse when they attack several or more souls. And around the globe, large-scale, devastating conflicts of civil (though uncivil) wars and military offensives cost countless lives and send refugees fleeing for theirs.* When media coverage focuses national and worldwide attention, hopefully it spurs purposeful outrage and aid.
And what of widespread weather- and climate-related disasters? Wildfires in the West and hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Nate in the South have destroyed homes, livelihoods, and lives in the U.S. and the Caribbean this year. The September earthquake in Mexico City and the winter avalanches in Afghanistan and Pakistan killed hundreds. Deadly flooding and landslides killed thousands and displaced or otherwise affected hundreds of thousands in Africa, South America, and South Asia — this year.*
That’s a lot of beleaguered, suffering bodies and a lot of grieving, bereaved souls. A lot.
Whether political issues or policies contributed to these tragedies or impede subsequent relief efforts matters not for the purpose of this post. (Articulate people can and should make compelling arguments and take constructive steps in other settings to bring about positive change in days and for years to come.)
This post — right here, right now — is about comforting the folks grieving these specific losses — right now and in the immediate future and for the rest of their lives. Because mass tragedies inflict grief on the individuals within communities.
You can (and should) give large-scale, physical comfort. Join with others in relief efforts. Volunteer your labor, skills, goods, or funds. Do a little research. Find way (or two or more) to help.
You also can (and should) give one-on-one, specific support to individuals grieving lost livelihoods, homes, or loved ones:
- Acknowledge the degree of loss.
- Where possible, bring physical relief (meals, clothes, shelter, water …).
- Avoid “at least” statements, which minimize rather than validate.
- Note the date(s) of the disasters in your perpetual calendars. Set up reminders to offer ongoing emotional support in months and years to come. (Yes, years.)
- Avoid claiming you “know” how the bereaved feel.
- If you have photographs of the deceased (or your friends’ destroyed homes), make copies and then offer them to your bereaved friends.
- Ask your mourning friends if they’d like to tell you about their loved ones. (Speak the names of those who died.)
- If you have memories or stories about those who died, ask your friends if you may share them.
If you’re able to give time or money to help those impacted by recent disasters — whether global, national, regional, or local — please do.
Just as importantly, if you know people affected by these tragedies, please reach out. You don’t have to know them well to know they need support. You can make a tremendous difference to them by even the smallest of gestures.
For more on related topics, please see Typhoons, Tornadoes, and Other Disasters Wreak Havoc on Individuals.
*To better understand the obstacles many refugees face, visit Their Story Is Our Story: Giving Voice to Refugees.
**10 of the Deadliest Natural Disasters of 2017 as reported by U.S. News
Teresa, thank you for another wonderful column. Your generosity is an inspiration to me.
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Your words are kind, rabbiadar. Thank you. So many people want to help but don’t know where to start. It warmed my heart to see children and teens working alongside women and men at the Feeding Children Everywhere event, joined in a common cause to assist faraway folks they’ll never meet. I found everyone there inspiring.