April 15th, 2013 was the day Boston, my home town, lost it’s innocence. It was a day that most people described as being “surreal”, or like “watching a movie”. The shock of being blindsided by death in such a celebratory setting, the horror of seeing people killed or maimed, and the accompanying the sense of overwhelming helplessness, all combined to make people feel traumatized, shell-shocked, and, to varying degrees, dissociative – like watching yourself move in a movie. Even those who saw it on TV or the internet, felt that same sense of immediacy, that threat, that personal brush with death, and responded the same way. ”There but for the grace of God, go I”. This was our home turf – little Boston – smaller cousin to the big hitters of New York and Washington. We had the reputation for being historic, academic, but not world shakers and movers. Why here? Why us? It was incomprehensible, and try as we might, we couldn’t break through the mental and emotional fog enough to understand what had just happened.
Although one of the two suspects is dead, and the second one captured, we talk about the feeling that our world has been irrevocably changed, that each of us will carry the scars of this tragedy for the rest of our lives.
For the past two weeks, I have talked with clients, every hour of every day, about the bombings. The first week was about their experiences around the horrors of the event, and the second, about the suspect’s capture, and now their evolving attempts to put some of the pieces together – to find some meaning in it all. That last one is going to take awhile – for all of us.
Being a trauma therapist, I’d like to pass on a few precious things that people have taught me so far.
The first is to contact a loved one, and let them know that you care. When we’ve had such an immediate experience with death, and discover we’re alive and safe, an important part of our healing is by letting each other know that we love them and are there for them. Among the last words the passengers of the Titanic were heard to say to a loved one before they were pulled under water, was “I love you”. And we can all remember how we responded to loved ones at 9/11. After all, isn’t that what it’s really all about?
The second is to feel less helpless by doing something in memory of the bombing that has some meaning to you, that makes you feel like you’re contributing something. Although we couldn’t all be there to rush to the aid of the victims, we can still do our part. We can go to our place of worship and spend some time in personal prayer or reflection. We can run 2.62 miles. We can wear a black armband or flag pin. We can make a contribution. We can put a flower at a local memorial. Mitigating the sense of helplessness helps heal the trauma.
Thanks to all of you who have reached out in this time of need. And thank you for making us feel loved and wanted in this sometimes horrific world, by saying, “We Are All Boston.”