The Long Road Ahead: How Harvey and Irma Survivors are Grieving and Surviving



While we may be past the initial shock of hurricane Harvey, the lasting impact of such a tragedy is something we must all cope with. 

Whether they were evacuated themselves or knew someone who was or didn’t know anyone, many of my clients continue to be emotionally impacted by the effects of such a traumatic event in our community. Here are a few questions to think about in terms of grief associated with the kind of loss hurricane survivors might be experiencing.

How do survivors of trauma grieve?

Grief is a deep sorrow or sadness and usually associated with the death of a loved one. This is an obvious and appropriate understanding of grief for some hurricane survivors. But there is another kind of grief that a large portion of survivors are living with called unresolved grief. Unresolved grief can happen because of many different life events or in one traumatic experience. The grief hurricane survivors are dealing with is ongoing. For them, life is described as “before Harvey” and “after Harvey.” Everyday they face the reality that whatever normal they knew before Harvey, will never be again; there is only a new normal, a new reality.

They aren't just mourning the loss of homes, material things and people; they're mourning the way their daily lives looked and felt while being forced to lean into a new reality.

How do I help those whose grief is unresolved?

Empathy comes from the ability to see or feel another person’s experience or perspective.

When was the last time you didn't have a roof for your children to sleep under? How would you feel if you had nothing to feed your baby and no diapers? Can you imagine telling your child that you wont be returning to your same school or home because its not longer there? Can you imagine what it might have felt like to hunker down to ride the storm out, constantly checking the radar for tornados, not sure if your house would flood to dangerous levels, trying to calm frightened children for several days?

You can imagine the impact that kind of stress would have on the mind and body. This kind of trauma can have a lingering effect on survivors and inspire a wide range of emotions. Many people who experienced Hurricane Harvey have seen destruction and felt fear we have not; with that comes a harsh disillusioned experience of human suffering and emotion. Compassion is empathy, understanding is empathy and acceptance is empathy.

How can I support and help others cope with their new reality?

Everyone has basic needs, and some are more urgent than others. Are their basic needs being met? It might be that a family still isn't sure how they will feed themselves in the months to come with no home and no jobs. How can you help ease their transition?

You can help others cope by asking questions. Ask them to specify exactly what they need or how you can assist.

Ask about their experience. No two hurricane survivor stories are alike. Allowing people to share a story invokes a sense of community, love, empathy and respect. Hearing an individual’s or family’s unique experience create community and support by giving them a place to be heard.

Point out their resiliency and strength. Show appreciation for their endurance and will. 

As more time passes it’ll continue to be business as usual for us, but remember that survivors are living their new reality in the midst of grief, loss and transition. And while they may not ask for it, they’ll still need our support, encouragement and empathy as they carve out a new and different “Post Harvey” life. 

Practice compassion, understanding and acceptance.

To schedule and appointment with Caroline Harris, LMFT-Associate, call 512-861-4131.

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