Alberta Strong is what Albertans seem to be hearing these days, especially after the tragic and devastating fire that happened in Fort McMurray. It has been so moving and heart warming to see not only our province coming together, but also Canadians and other countries uniting to help the community. People have been opening their homes, donating, and volunteering as they show their support to the evacuees. The evacuees are undergoing a huge loss and tragedy in their lives due to the traumatic event that they experienced. But what happens when the town opens up again for the residents to go back? Does this mean the sadness and grieving lessens or ends? The answer is no.
Each grieving experience is unique and personal to the individual; therefore we cannot put a time on when a person will feel complete and move forward with their loss. Additionally, there are no clear guidelines or stages of grief that one can expect to move through. Some of us have been taught that we have to “be strong” or we have to “try and forget about what happened.” People may also hear “It is just stuff, you can build a brand new house.” Unfortunately these statements can be very hurtful to those who lost, minimizing and trivializing what has happened.
Many of us have been exposed to a lot of misinformation when it comes to grieving and experiencing loss. The Grief Recovery Method® outlines 6 Myths of Grief that many people have associated within their lives:
1.Don’t Feel Bad: People that are grieving a loss may hear, “don’t cry” or “don’t feel bad.” It is hard for people to see the ones they love crying, and since we don’t know what else to say, we think this is a helpful statement. It is okay to feel bad or sad or any other emotional reaction at a time of loss. There is no reaction that is universal. This display of emotion shows that you are a human who has feelings, loves, and cares. As a friend or loved one, we need to listen with our hearts. We have all felt sad and there is no guideline for how you should feel or a specific time limit on when we should stop grieving the loss. Although the fire has moved on and the residents will be permitted back into the community, doesn’t mean the sadness, pain and hurt ends or is complete.
2.Replace the Loss: Many of the residents have lost their homes through fire and toxicity. For those whose homes are still standing they have still lost pieces of their home, their community, and neighbourhood. People may hear “You can build a new home,” “You can make new friends,” or “You can choose to live anywhere you want now.” When we hear these comments or think these thoughts of replacing what we already have, it does not help or change what we have lost. Some things can never be replaced. It is often not the bricks, but rather the memories and irreplaceable items that we have lost that creates the most heartache.
3.Time Heals all Wounds: This is the one myth we all wish was true, but unfortunately time does not heal our broken hearts. It does not heal our hearts just as time does not heal a broken arm or anything that requires attention. It is important to be gentle with ourselves and understand that we do not have to put a time limit on when we should feel complete and ready to move forward. We will need to take action when we are ready.
4.Be Strong for Others: In a tragedy such as the Fort McMurray fire, people may have the perception that they want to be strong for their loved ones. But, maybe their loves ones don’t want them to be strong, but rather feel sadness with them and talk about their grief. At a time of loss we may not want people to be strong for us but rather be sad with us. It is okay to show sad feelings around your friends and family because most likely they are feeling sadness and grief as well. It is these experiences that bring families and communities together.
5.Keep Busy: Our lives are so busy and filled with so many appointments, and just our everyday routines. After a loss we may feel like we have to fill our day with more things to do because maybe enough time will pass and soon we will feel better about the loss. Often when we do this, we find ourselves coming home at the end of the day and not feeling any better. This is because keeping busy does not actually help us with moving forward. Although we have busy lives, we must make sure we take time to feel our feelings.
6.Grieve Alone: Sometimes we may feel like no one wants to hear and listen to how we are feeling and believe that it is better to grieve alone. For some, grieving on their own may be beneficial, but not because they believe that they might burden others with their feelings. Some people could say, “They do not want to seem needy.” In a community tragedy there are many close loved ones who have experienced the loss. It is normal to talk about the positive memories as well as the sad memories. It is also important to hear other people’s stories and to talk about their own journey through loss.
After experiencing a traumatic event and significant loss, it is important be gentle with yourself and your family. There is no rush or time limit on when to move forward with the loss in your life. When the residents go back home they may experience conflicting feelings, and some may say it is “bittersweet.” It is important to know that it is normal and natural to feel any sort of emotional loss that you are feeling or continue to experience while grieving the traumatic loss and devastation of the Fort McMurray fire.
If you are having a difficult time coping with a loss, please know that we are here to help. Our Registered Psychologists and Certified Grief Recovery Specialists® will equip you with the action tools to help heal your heart.
This article was written Gina Baretta, Psychology Intern and Certified Grief Recovery Specialist®, of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs.
Photo credit: Provost FCSS (http://fcss.provost.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Alberta-Strong.jpg)