by Jessica W. Brown
On Friday, August 26, 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall at Rockport, Texas and has devastated the Gulf Coast and surrounding areas. 53 Texas counties have been impacted, with a total population of over 11 million Texans affected. That is 46% of the population of Texas. This is an unprecedented disaster, a crisis that will ripple through our communities for decades. Our hearts at The Christi Center go out to everyone affected by Hurricane Harvey, now and in the upcoming months, as our communities rebuild and recover.
Arriving at the site of a natural disaster is a unique experience, whether you are returning after your life has been irrevocably altered by Mother Nature, or you are there to assist folks whose lives have been rocked by the elements. There is apprehension of what you are about to see, there is the gut-punch shock at the devastation, there is grief and sadness. When I drove into Aransas Pass, TX, this past weekend, to volunteer with the clean-up and donation efforts, I experienced all of those emotions and more. However, in the wake of a disaster, what struck me, as it has before, was the overwhelming indomitable human spirit of hope.
Connection in the face of loss, whether that loss is a loved one from death (as is our focus at The Christi Center) or the loss of one’s home, job, safety and sense of security in the wake of a natural disaster – that is the face of hope. It is how we rebuild ourselves and our communities. I will never forget the people who assisted me and my family in the wake of the Bastrop Fires over Labor Day in 2011, and one of the greatest gifts that was offered during that time of personal crisis and confusion was connection with others.
There are many commonalities between the grief journey from the loss of a loved one and the grief journey after a disaster. Most people will experience denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Sometimes these emotions will overlap, sometimes they stand alone and they often come in waves. One can cycle from anger at the unfairness of the loss, to acceptance, to depression and back to anger. This is normal and healthy in the face of tragedy, whatever that tragedy might be.
However, crisis and disasters do have unique characteristics to be aware of. A crisis has the following features: it hits suddenly and without warning, in a way that threatens our security and has unpredictable consequences. A disaster is a crisis of a natural or human made hazard that negatively effects society or environment. The emotional responses to going through a disaster can involve: intense or unpredictable feelings, changes to thoughts and behavior patterns, sensitivity to environmental factors (such as loud noises or bright lights), strained relationships, and stress-related physical symptoms. These symptoms can be particularly acute in the sudden aftermath of a disaster, when one is still in shock.
There are certain characteristics of resilient survivors. The following traits, though not cure-alls for the shock and grief at the tremendous loss, are indicative of someone who will weather the storm after a crisis:
- Survivors have a support network that instills hope and can talk about their experience and feelings.
- They understand and accept the magnitude and scope of what they have lost and realistically assess and approach the possible solutions.
- They learn to forgive themselves for their choices and for surviving. They do not blame themselves or others.
- They can talk about their experiences and feelings
- They can ask for and accept help.
- They find ways to participate after the loss.
Yet, the loss can be big. It can feel too big and crisis, by definition, threatens our security. After the shock wears off, the grief can be overwhelming and the trauma of the disaster may rise up. Trauma is either “too much too fast” or “too much for too long” and can impact one’s emotional well-being for years after the traumatic event. If you or someone you know is experiencing the following emotional concerns, please seek help.
- Feeling nervous, helpless, fearful, sad
- Feeling shocked, numb, and not able to feel love or joy
- Avoiding people, places, and things related to the event
- Being irritable or having outbursts of anger
- Becoming easily upset or agitated
- Blaming yourself or having negative views of oneself or the world
- Distrust of others, getting into conflicts, being over-controlling
- Being withdrawn, feeling rejected, or abandoned
- Loss of intimacy or feeling detached
We at The Christi Center honor the strength and resilience of everyone who has been impacted by Hurricane Harvey. If you or someone you know is emotionally impacted by Harvey please reach out to the following resources in the Austin community.
Jessica W. Brown is currently finishing her final semester at St. Edward’s University’s Masters in Counseling program with a focus on children and crisis, grief and loss, and trauma counseling. A personal survivor of the Bastrop 2011 fires and a long time safety volunteer for a local organization, she strives to be of service. Jessica joined The Christi Center in March of this year as our Program Coordinator and looks forward to assisting The Christi Center in our mission. See Jessica talking about the grief effects of natural disasters here