For over a month now, the tragedy of Malaysia Flight 370 has been intensively covered in the media. Such awful events can create a myriad of fears and feelings. Do you remember where you were when you first heard the plane was lost, and what your feelings were? Do you even want to “go there”? Sometimes we can recoil from news like this because our emotional response feels too personal and anxiety provoking.
As parents, relations or friends, we often live with worries about something dreadful happening to our loved ones. These worries might come up for you when your son drives alone for the first time or when your adolescent daughter goes to a party where you suspect there may be drugs or alcohol, perhaps it’s when your closest friend loses her mom or like now, when a plane crashes… Some of these fears may be unspeakable, buried so deep inside of us that just putting words to the fears themselves creates substantial anxiety. Sometimes we can dismiss these fears by saying, “That can’t happen to me”, but at other times we may hear a daunting whisper that says, “Or can it?” We may spend a day or a week fretting, but then the anxiety recedes, allowing us to return to our normal state of functioning and leading us to believe that we have somehow learned to cope with these repetitive worries. However, seeing the relatives, of lost passengers from Flight 370, overcome with grief and expressing rage and frustration to the airline officials, can break through our well defended fears and create fantasies of loss that are refreshed every time this scene is replayed. Or, we may grow desensitized to the news coverage and even change the channel, experiencing ‘empathy fatigue’ and reaffirming for ourselves the knowledge that flying remains the safest way to travel.
But the fear of losing someone we love so dearly can rarely be fully dismissed. Dealing with a sense of helplessness, the fear of losing control, and the mortality of both ourselves and others, is part of what makes us human. What can we hold onto at these sometimes, overwhelming times? Love and loss is a painful coupling. Sometimes, we may have experienced the acute pain of loss ourselves, and this might increase the fear of loss recurring. For some people, especially if they have a history of worrying, or if some tragedy has happened in their past, these fears may seem impossible to deal with.
The pain in that briefing room in Beijing, China, was hard to watch. What struck me, however, was not only the intensity of communal grieving itself, but the strength that communal grieving seemed to impart, even at the moment of greatest vulnerability. Together families differing in culture and history, bound together by anticipated and shared loss, could cry, bemoan and express anger as a unit brought together by a horrendous event. The support and caring of people who were once strangers, points to the potential power of support in our own lives, by our own families and friends, or professionals. We need not be alone in facing difficult and testing times; leaning on others for love and support can make each and all of us stronger and more able to cope with crises and losses.
As our lives unfold, we may have discovered through experience of losses big and small, that, as devastating as the blow might be, we can mostly move on through the process of grieving, internalizing the voice and memories of our loved one, holding them ever dear in our hearts, while slowly allowing the blood to flow again through our bodies and our spirits. The sea of grief recedes, our sense of being lost may diminish, and we might find our path once again. This is what we hope will happen for the loved ones left behind by the events in the Indian Ocean. We wish them some form of closure, and ultimately, peace.
Lorraine Lipson, M.Ed. LPC is a therapist with twenty years of experience, who specializes in helping individual adults with challenges in their relationships, depression, bi-polar and anxiety issues. She values deeply how her clients continuously remind her of our capacity for growth and change. Lorraine has a private practice within Maria Droste Counseling Center.