How Can We “Help” During and After a Tragedy?

I know I’m not alone on this. This week has been a mix of emotions as the tragic news of the Humbolt collision rocked our world and broke our hearts. For this past week, I’ve been observing and processing the events of each new day trying to make some sense of it.
  • The visible support out in the communities and on media/social media? Hands-down amazing. There has been such a heart-warming outpouring of support for the young individuals who lost their lives in this crash as well as the people touched by the lives of these young individuals. Those families and friends who are mourning the loss of their loved ones can know that they are supported and not alone during this unbearable time.
  • The donations? The amount of money that has been raised to support these families is mind-blowing. I believe that money can help to alleviate the financial burdens as those families face each day from here on in, trying to make sense of things and to put the pieces of their lives together.
People are amazing. We saw this same type of support in the Fort MacMurray fires in 2016.

Having said that, with every tragedy that passes, I sense a gap. I’m often left with the question, “Yeah, but how can I truly help these people?“. I think it’s human nature to want to help those who are hurting, and it’s a beautiful gift to help able to help and to receive help.

I’ve experienced loss and here are some things I know to be true:

  • Working through the aftermath of loss (grief) continues after the media/social media buzz has settled down
  • Healing is an internal process that takes time. This process and timeframe differs from individual to individual.
  • Individuals working through grief are fighting an inner battle each day, walking uphill through molasses. Grief can be painful and messy, resulting in a wide range of emotions.
When tragedy strikes, we feel helpless. So we do whatever we can; post pictures highlighting our support, donate money to help the families in their time of adjustment (which I’m sure will be very helpful as they will need time to process and heal without the burden of worrying about how to make ends meet). But what else? Is the problem truly fixed?
After the media attention dies down and the donations are finished, those people are still left navigating their way through the pieces that once made up their life and working their way through some tough emotions. The need for “support and help” doesn’t end when the social-media blitz does.

As a society, we don’t really “get” grief.

I observe that there is an expectation placed on people who are grieving to take a week to work through their stuff and then after that, they need to pick themselves up and get on with life.
Emotions and healing don’t work that way. They come and go and are processed (or not) in a way that is unique to that individual as that person is ready to work through them. I can definitely vouch personally for all of this.

Grief Can Be Messy

Life can be messy, grief can be messy and emotions can be messy. Not everyone handles their emotions in “healthy” manners. Sometimes the emotions are so intense and unpleasant that people reach for things to numb the pain like alcohol and drugs so that they can simply stay up-right and “endure” life post-loss. Others may find healthier ways to handle their pain. The point is that in either case, these people are hurting and need continued patience, support and compassion. They don’t need judgement in either case.

So then, how do I think we can help?

Have you heard the statement “give a man a fish and he eats for a day, but teach a man to fish and he eats for life”?
Donating money satisfies the “give a man a fish…” part, but how do we “teach a man to fish” or help to support these individuals through their unique healing process?

I think we can help through sharing more kindness, patience and compassion in general on a daily basis. In a sense, “Love” is the answer.

Every individual you come into contact with each and every day may be fighting some type of internal battle.


Perhaps they:
  • are suffering from a recent loss.
  • are having a bad day from a not-so-recent loss.
  • have just received a diagnosis from the doctor that is life-altering.
  • are waiting on test results that may lead to a life-altering diagnosis.
  • are struggling while supporting a family member or friend who is battling an illness.
  • are battling things like depression, anxiety, anorexia, etc

These scenarios don’t come with a sign saying, “please go easy on me right now, I simply need a little bit extra care and patience right now“.

These are regular, everyday people just doing their best to get through life with the cards they’ve been dealt.

 I think that we must:
  • Judge others less.
  • Have “compassion” for the individuals around us on a daily basis.
  • Be the ray of light that we may not even know that person needs.
  • Be kinder and more patient than we need to be to each individual that we encounter each day, as we don’t really know what’s going on in their lives.
…meaning that this compassion must continue after the media has stopped talking about an event. Compassion must extend to people across all areas of our society (regardless of race, age, sexual preference, religion, gender, income, homeless or not).
People each and every day experience loss and I believe that every life is important.
Please continue to rock this world by raising awareness and sharing your support, your love, your kindness, your patience and compassion. The kindness you share can make a huge difference in another person’s life.
Love heals and lifts. I may not know all of the answers, but I know that it’s worth a shot.
With love, light and a “big ol’ Sherri-sized hug”,

Please let me know what you think!

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