The Cleanup after a Tragedy
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The Cleanup after a Tragedy

In the aftermath of a disaster, whether it be natural or personal, giving yourself time to recover is important—and necessary

By Sean McKinney, Representative

Note: This article deals with topics pertaining to the death of a child. Use precaution when reading.

Life is not fair.

Most of us will say this phrase or have it spoken to us at some point in our lives, probably on more than one occasion. It is a statement that speaks to many people and many situations.

Each of us will witness unfairness in our lives, in many devastating ways. Two examples come to mind that I believe provide an interesting analogy.

Many people around the world live in areas where there is the constant threat of hurricanes. According to experts, cleanup after a hurricane can take weeks. Depending on the city, the size of the weather event, and the amount of damage, recovery could take months.

I have seen videos but thankfully have never witnessed firsthand anything like a hurricane. I have however, lived through a personal hurricane. Both the figurative and literal versions are similar in their level of destruction.

During the past year, my family and I discovered the severe brutality of the word unfair when we lost a child. Our world was changed forever.

Like a hurricane, the loss of a child is devastating. The crippling nature of the pain is hard to describe unless you have gone through it. People will offer condolences and do their best to sympathize, but this is simply not enough when a parent is grieving the loss of one of their children.

An online search reveals a six-step process for recovery from a hurricane. Those who have been impacted by a child’s death could benefit from a list of their own, to help the grieving process and offer some semblance of recovery from such tragedy. Here’s how it can be applied.

1. Use your safety gear.

Receiving a call from local law enforcement regarding your child will cause you to immediately shut down. This is when you will need to put on your safety gear: the people who suddenly come bursting into your life to offer support.

With your safety gear on, you can navigate through the coming days and weeks with a sense of who is certain to stay and who will leave as quickly as they came. We all need people to lean on, and while many of us have a spouse or significant other, we need to remember that they are grieving too.  

2. Open all windows and doors.

When tragedy strikes, it can feel like the world is now inside your home, delivering help at all hours of the day and night. For those of us who rarely have people over, even during the good times, this process can be difficult. But keeping yourself and your home open to help will bring more comfort than hinderance.

3. Protect yourself.

How do we do this when we feel like nothing matters? In the aftermath of tragedy, any relationships we have become secondary to the one we lost.

Your thoughts may race, be nonexistent—or be both at the same time. Processing emotions becomes a chore. We need people to lean on, but who? Who can help us navigate throughout the next day, week, month, and years?

People care but often don’t know how to interpret your pain—they don’t know how to empathize or sympathize. Protecting yourself means finding that one special person (who may or not be a spouse) who will be there for you and who you know won’t leave.

4. Remove unsalvageable items.

Unsalvageable items could be relationships that may have once seemed important but are now insignificant in the aftermath of loss. For me, removing these from my life was easier than dealing with my thoughts.

Relationships that take up space in our lives and do not afford us growth or nourishment will be the first on the chopping block. Even hobbies can be listed in this category. Minutes, hours, days, weeks, and years become very, very precious to a person who has lost a child.

5Deal with flooded homes.

Flooding happens when our emotions become more than we can handle and we need to get help. Counselling is most certainly at the top of this list. A person who is grieving and unable to process their emotions will be like a flooded home, damaged on the inside due to mould and rot.

Each family member will grieve differently and needs different types of care. As parents, we need to watch for flooding in each of our family members, especially surviving children.

6. Disinfect and sanitize.

When this happens depends on the people in the home. Disinfecting means ridding oneself of the bacteria and disease brought by a devastating hurricane. Likewise, we rid ourselves of the ugliness of the nature in which our child was taken. We remember the good and the bad but choose to dwell on the memories that hold us closer to our child.

Sanitizing means taking precautions to ensure your home and family are strong enough to withstand the next hurricane. We take these precautions so that other people cannot unintentionally prolong our grieving process. People are not generally out to cause us pain; they simply don’t know how to grieve alongside with us.  

Cleaning up after any disaster is a long and drawn-out process because of the mess left behind. Like the cleanup crews brought in after a natural disaster, following a tragedy, we need crews to help with the cleanup. Find them, and don’t hesitate to lean on them for as long as necessary.

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