Is healing possible after a tragedy?

The community of Nanaimo, BC is reeling following a shooting on April 30th at a sawmill.  Kevin Douglas Addison has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder for the attack that took place where he used to work.  Earlier this month, Kaiti Perras, 23, Josh Hunter, 23, Zackariah Rathwell, 21, Jordan Segura, 22, and Lawrence Hong, 27, were fatally stabbed at a house where they were celebrating the last day of classes at the University of Calgary.

When tragedy strikes in communities across Canada citizens suffer a traumatic loss. Grief after a traumatic event is a lifelong journey that transforms someone.  Each person goes through the process in a different way and in their own time.  There are challenges along the way that can disrupt the healing process, or provide strength and a pathway to move forward.  The support of family, friends and acquaintances is critical as people cope with loss and try to create new meaning in their lives.  There are simple things you can do to help someone in your community who may be struggling:

1. Be there. Some people think that those who experience trauma need space to sort things through.  Assume the opposite.  Most people need others to be present.  Being there for someone, even if they are an acquaintance, is powerful and appreciated.  Don’t be afraid or let your own busy life get in the way.

2. Don’t compare losses. Although it is natural to try and offer words of comfort to someone, it is not helpful to compare traumas.  Losing someone in a traumatic event is not the same as losing a much loved pet or someone who is elderly and has lived a full life.

3. Offer practical assistance.  Non-verbal expressions of love are healing. Bringing food or helping with household chores are simple, kind gestures that will be appreciated and remembered.

4. Do not say “you will get over it”.   In a traumatic loss, there is no such thing as closure or getting over it.  People have to learn to cope without a treasured loved one in their lives – it is a new normal and it takes time to heal.

5. Listen & offer long-term support.  Individuals and families who experience traumatic loss will be dealing with it for the rest of their lives.  Let them know you are here for them now and in the future.  Offering compassion and active listening are key.

As human beings, we have a tendency to want to solve problems and repair brokenness. Yet, what people need most in the aftermath of tragedy is someone to be there with them.  People who are suffering need to have control over their lives and the ability to make choices.  Being there for someone who is in pain is difficult, but your presence will show them they are not alone and that they have support as they move toward healing and recovery.

The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime offers support, research and education to survivors and stakeholders.

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