Expressions of caring after tragedy have healing powers

The horrific shootings that occurred in Newtown, Conn., this past Friday broke the hearts of the nation. Debates quickly sparked about gun control and inadequate mental health care. However, along with outrage came an outpouring of compassion and prayers for those directly affected by the massacre. In the wake of a tragedy, people often feel powerless. Yet the power we do have resides in our compassion and our kindness to others. This is how we help.

One did not have to directly experience this tragedy to empathize with the pain felt by the families and survivors. The feelings of shock, numbness, denial, anger and overwhelming sadness are common to loss on any scale. Support pours in immediately following the event. After Hurricane Katrina, cities across the nation opened up their doors to give refuge to those displaced. After losing a loved one, people come to your home. They bring food, they clean, they take care of you.

Help and humanity in the immediate aftermath of trauma has been shown to have long-lasting, positive effects and can reduce the likelihood of developing post-traumatic stress disorder. However, working in mental health care has shown me that there is no timetable for grieving or trauma, regardless of what diagnostic mental health care says. The intense pain may wane, but those feelings of sadness, anger and loneliness will continue to come and go. This is when we must remember our compassion. Those affected by this tragedy need our continued thoughts, our continued prayers and our continued support. They will need it in three months, in three years, in 30 years.

We held our loved ones close this weekend and said thanks for our blessings. We cannot forget to do this every day, tragedy or not. Kindness and altruism are the emotions shown to have the most positive effects on both our mental and physical health. For if there is no timetable on grief and pain, then there is no timetable on love.

Sara J. Gershen
Family Service of Greater
New Orleans