What we learned at today's discusson of how humans process catastrophe at St. Philip's in the Hills, Tucson, Arizona was that it essentially plays out either of two ways.
One is that people never get through it to the other side. For whatever reason they can't summon the psychological coping mechanisms. Those range from relying on a social network to faith. Some form of what is known as "mental illness" takes hold. Those people won't be able to return to functioning without professional help. As for ever feeling whole again, forget it.
The other is that they can grab onto what they need. The tool they clutch could be as primitive as denial. That can work well for a while. Or it could be complex. That might entail starting a foundation to assist others in similar situations. However, for most there could years of suffering ahead.
Dr. Sharon Nielsen, who is employed at NAMI in AZ, presented a talk and slide show. Those were part of the series on catastrophe at St. Philip's. It includes the points of views of diverse disciplines, ranging from her field of psychology to science.
Afterwards members in the audience shared their own soul-wrenching experiences. One man and his family had received so much support after a train wreck when he was a child that it's embedded in his memory bank as an adventure. However, his son has yet to bounce back from a mortorcycle accident which killed his wife. He was the driver.
Another man recounted initially being surrounded by people after a fatal accident in his family. Then, one by one they drfited away. He attributes that to their fear that it could happen to them. Although he has flashbacks he seems centered.
Then I told my story of a 2003 professional catastrophe. Both members of the audience and I agreed that the mistake I made was reaching back into the past - college friends - for validation that I was okay. Turns out that the experience had changed me and they didn't seem able to absorb that. The hurt was huge. Now I'm okay but I wasn't then.
Next Sunday the series wraps up with a priest's take on catastrophe. She, yes it's a she, put out a teaser today that prayer does have powerful effects.