This post, written by Rev. Dr. Kate Wiebe, originally was published March 28, 2019, on the ICTG blog.
Following a death, a shadow often stretches across what can feel like a long valley in life. Sure, there are times when our neighbors or loved ones live long and vibrant lives. There are those people living in “blue zones” in the world, for example, who tend to die in their sleep, often . Their loved ones celebrate their life well-lived. More often than not, though, death comes with little, if any, warning. Death grieves our spirits, individually and collectively. Sometimes, even, death wrenches our hearts in traumatic ways.
Incredibly, human beings possess a seemingly miraculous ability to heal after trauma. Often involuntarily and naturally, we conduct a process of metabolizing the energy of our loss(es), identifying resources, and, even, growing through the aftermath of tragedy. Though this process occurs through individuals, it also appears to function best in concert with survivors perceiving care from others along the way. In particular, care that bears witness to grieving and healing processes appear to be most effective for instigating personal healing processes. Amazingly, it does not seem to matter much who extends care, as long as care is extended.
In particular, care that bears witness to grieving and healing processes appear to be most effective for instigating personal healing processes.
Care may be expressed by strangers, like when Peter Levine experienced the care of a bystander after a car hit him suddenly when he moved through a crosswalk.
Care may be expressed by small groups of close friends or family, like in Blue Zone areas as researched and described by Dan Buettner and National Geographic.
Care may be expressed by professionals or peer counselors, like in cases where therapists conduct EMDR, psychological first aid, trauma-informed pastoral counseling, or trauma-informed chaplaincy or spiritual direction.
Care may be expressed by fellow survivors, like in cases of online or in-person support groups of survivors who have shared traumatic history. “Firehouse families” – a self-proclaimed, precious, and sacred term for the persons who gathered in the firehouse next door to Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012 – is one type of group of people who support one another as only they know how based on their shared history.
A skilled caregiver journeys alongside, valuing these senses, and, along the way, witnesses with the survivor to the range of resources available to meet whatever need the survivor may sense.
Renowned traumatologists, including Peter Levine (2010), Babette Rothschild (2003, 2008), Basel van der Kolk (2014), and Charles Figley (1995), all describe ways in which most effective forms of care after trauma view the survivor as an expert. That is to say, the caregiver highly values how a survivor inherently senses their needs along the Valley of the Shadow of Death, whether that need is to grieve, to postpone grief for a time, to resolve grief, or any other type of need along the way. Survivors sense what they need, in idiosyncratic ways, at their own pace, and even through repetitious, cyclical, or pendulum patterns. A skilled caregiver journeys alongside, valuing these senses, and, along the way, witnesses with the survivor to the range of resources available to meet whatever need the survivor may sense.
Today, many survivors are saying that, as a country, we can do much better at valuing the needs and pacing of survivors, particularly those who are surviving violence. For example, following the news that Jeremy Richman, father of Avielle Richman and co-founder of the Avielle Foundation, died by suicide, fellow “firehouse family” member Nelba Marquez-Greene tweeted the following statement:
As soon as 12/14 happened we went right to “Newtown Strong”. It was premature and superficial. I wish we would have said and still say, “Newtown Grieves”. There is strength in grieving. We can acknowledge grief, hope and loss together. There are so many expectations on survivors to change the world. You lose a loved one to gun violence/are injured/survive a shooting AND THEN the weight of world change is on your shoulders. You can’t even grieve. Everyone wants so desperately for you to be okay- that you can never, ever say you’re not. I have rarely met a survivor that has NOT thought about being with their lost loved one. It’s real. We are here. This culture is grief averse and our victim support service structure sucks.
These are important words for all of us who practice caregiving – whether as teachers, coaches, nonprofit or business leaders, or faith leaders – to hear.
Today, many survivors are saying that, as a country, we can do much better at valuing the needs and pacing of survivors, particularly those who are surviving violence.
In what ways is your organization or community caring for survivors, valuing what they sense they need, and pointing out resources along the way? We invite you to share best practices in the comments below. If you are looking for ways your organization – whether a school, nonprofit, congregation, or business – can serve survivors with more effective care, contact us. We’d be glad to help you with education, guides, and support.
Make a contribution today to help educate community-based and faith-based organizational leaders in developing long-term care for individuals and families impacted by violence.
This post, written by Rev. Dr. Kate Wiebe, originally was published September 24, 2019, on the
When people talk about emergency or disaster preparedness, they most often refer to exit or evacuation strategies, communication plans, and stocking supplies. They rarely, if ever, refer to the mental, emotional, and spiritual practices proven to help survivors thrive beyond adversity.
What are these healthful practices?
According to researchers like Peter Levine (2012), Bessel van der Kolk (2014), Nadine Burke-Harris (2018), and Nagoski and Nagoski (2019), the keys to thriving beyond adversity are:
... paying attention to how your body feels restored will help you make key decisions about what will sustain you during long-term recovery.
Perhaps what is most compelling about research into the practices that help sustain resiliency is that these acts often are the very elements that make up a community's culture. The food, the dance, the art, the patterns of rest, the family gatherings and neighborly interactions. These are the very things – research is showing – that we ought to embrace in times of crisis and not neglect.
In what ways do you or your community maintain healthy cultural practices, even and especially in times of crisis? How have you seen these practices sustain you? Share in the comments below.
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One of the most challenging aspects to accept when responding to a disaster is how long term recovery differs from other forms of stress. Unfortunately, response to a pandemic also significantly differs from other forms of long term recovery, let alone other forms of stress.
One of the major differences from other types of disasters is that a pandemic simultaneously effects to great degree numerous communities at once. Other types of disasters (i.e., tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, or mass attacks, for example) instead may effect one or a few communities at once.
There can be positive aspects to the broad scope of pandemic impacts. For example, many people appreciate how we're all in this together, no matter what county, state, or even country you may be located. If you call a family member or coworker in another region, likely you have similar experiences to discuss.
That said, the level of impact can feel overwhelming to many people. Here are some important practices to keep in mind as you proceed through stages of impact by pandemic:
Pace and Nourish Yourself and the People Around You as You Go
This cannot be emphasized enough. The road ahead is a long one. There will be many needs to address, well beyond issues of quarantine and physical distancing. You will have greater ability to adapt and respond to what comes if you pace your response, do not over function, and incorporate healthy daily practices. You cannot solve the pandemic in a day, a week, or even a month.
As you consider pacing and nourishing yourself and the people around you, in your homes, work, or neighborhood, consider what you have been putting off in the last few days since beginning to realize the gravity of the pandemic spread. Dinners with family or housemates? Smiling at people in your household or in your neighborhood on a regular basis? Taking time to move around, or to take a mental break from focusing on response to think about or enjoy something else for a little while? How many days will you be putting these things off? This week? Several weeks? The demands are not going to lift any time soon. And if you continue to put these important nourishing practices on hold, you inadvertently will prepare yourself for burnout.
Gather Your Resources
What or who helps you personally and professionally? If you do not already know, now is a good time to figure this out, as you will need to draw on these practices, forms of support, or people throughout the weeks ahead. Having a current referral list is very helpful. There may also be certain supplies you regularly need in the weeks ahead. Take time to consider what those are and identify ways of obtaining them, if possible and necessary.
Remember, A Step at a Time
Rather than focusing on the big picture, many people who survive, and even thrive, beyond significant adversity, reflect on how they did it by focusing on what they or the people around them needed next, more than everything that was needed. By focusing on the next step, gradually you create a step-by-step pathway forward.
You can do this! And, your efforts are contagious. Thank you for the tremendous difference you are making.
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Expanding understanding and best practices for leadership and whole-community care.