Sandy’s Stress Can Last Longer than We Think
I live in Staten Island and our entire neighborhood was flooded by Hurricane Sandy. My daughter was home and saw our family dog, who has been around since she was born, float away. Needless to say, she is devastated—to the point where every time she sees a dog, she bursts into uncontrollable tears. Yesterday, she told me she does not want to go to her best friend’s house anymore because she can’t bear to see her friend’s dog.
Like any loss, I know it takes time to heal, but I am worried that this trauma has affected her for good, and may incapacitate her in ways that will hinder her well-being. If this is the case, do I downplay the trauma and try to return a sense of normalcy to the situation? Or should I consider this a serious medical issue and seek further assistance? I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill, but I’ve never seen her react in this way before. I am concerned for her, especially since dogs are everywhere and there is no avoiding the situation in order for her to live a normal life.
Hurricane Sandy has certainly done a number on us all and children are no exception. They often understand and feel things much more deeply and strongly than adults do. This is partially because of their lack of experience in such situations and the innocence that they possess. Their ability to process the trauma is limited by virtue of their age and stage of psycho-emotional development.
I am so incredibly sorry to hear of your flood and your family dog.
It’s never easy to lose a pet that’s a part of your family, regardless of the circumstances that led to the loss. But, this circumstance, in particular, is uniquely traumatic because of the other elements involved. Indeed, it was a catastrophe that we experienced. People all around you suffered losses of all kinds. Indeed, worst of all, people lost their lives. Your daughter may or may not be attending to all of this, but she is affected by our collective grief just the same.
Normally, I would suggest being patient. Losses like this require healing and that takes time.
However, in this situation, I feel your daughter may be at risk for a real medical condition, called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. It may be a normal reaction to feel sad and to cry when seeing a playmate or classmate’s pet when you’ve just lost one. The feelings of sadness and sorrow, even anger are completely natural after suffering from a loss. But, it is worth monitoring as the acute reaction your daughter is experiencing could become a more serious issue that might deserve additional attention.
I would say it is probably not of great help that she is a New Yorker. All around, she is hearing how brave people are, how powerful our machinery, how quickly we will rebuild. But, we live in an area that is particularly imbalanced when it comes to loss. More disturbing, we live in a culture that pits nature as an enemy, or at least nothing more than crude material for our buildings and to fuel our hunger for more.
When nature hurts us, we erect bigger and stronger walls. The necessary period of grief is hastened by the arrival of cement trucks. The urgency to rebuild might be fascinating if it weren’t so uncivilized.
No, civility at this point requires that we sit with those who suffered losses and take it all in, expressing all the feelings for a good long while and with a good long cry. Replacement for our losses is not possible, so simply, so soon. And, this is what you can offer your daughter most.
If she does not return to a more balanced state in a few weeks, evidenced by the fact that she can think of her dog and be with others without losing her composure, I would investigate the many types of treatments available to those who suffer from PTSD and consider taking her to an individual with such a practice.
Don’t underestimate the importance of this event even if people around you seem to be getting over it more quickly.
The fact is, many of them are suffering too; more common than people recognize and accept. Indeed, it is quite a shame more of this is not discussed openly. Again, our society’s minimization of this type of trauma is counterproductive. I give you credit for your awareness and your openness and appreciate your question. Hopefully my contribution here will help you as well as others.
And, as we celebrate the holidays, I’m sure you will be reminding your daughter to be thankful for all that she does have left in her life and how much love surrounds her. This is a propitious time. Indeed, this time is one of the more “intelligent” creations of our culture, encouraging us to take a moment, even in the wake of a tragedy, to be grateful.
Take advantage of that as well. Yet, at the same time be careful not to dismiss the unwelcome feelings of sadness that might join you at the table. Help your daughter see the other blessings left in her life, but don’t ignore the pain. Acknowledge it, respect it all. If applicable, help her understand that those who may “poo-poo” her sensitivity are drowning in their own grief, though they may not realize it.
Compassion and acceptance is a good mantra for what we are dealing with now. Ultimately that is the only true foundation for our restoration. In that vein, we must learn to respect and revere nature, including its destructive force. This is a tough lesson for sure—but, once learned, leads to the greater appreciation for all life, so critical to our well-being. Hopefully, and thankfully, with your attention, your daughter’s life will be richer as a result of how you help her transcend this period of suffering.
I wish you well.
Michael Finkelstein, M.D. has gained acclaim for his pioneering approach to integrative medicine, since beginning his private practice more than twenty years ago. Board-certified in both internal medicine and holistic medicine, a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and a graduate of the Associate Fellowship Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona School of Medicine, Dr. Finkelstein is a self-professed “Doctor of Common Sense.”He is a dedicated healer who views health and well-being as a wholly singular unit, one that must be taken seriously and considered with compassion, intention and commitment. Dr. Finkelstein’s concept of “skillful living” applies this holistic approach to overall well-being – the business of living must be developed, like a skill, with mindful, dedicated attention. To read more from Dr. Finkelstein, sign up for his bi-monthly Moon Letter here or for further information visit his website.
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