How to Help Survivors the Most in Orlando
June 15, 2016
When the funerals are over and the media has gone, folks will still be in need of help. This is not going to be over anytime soon for Orlando.
Families will need more help beyond the fabulous response they are getting right now. Survivors will need all the support they can get for a very long time and a lot of people are willing to do that.
There have been reports that veterans have been offering to help survivors of the Pulse but have been turned away. While they are certainly qualified to give support, especially when they know what survivor guilt is, they do not have what is required to do the most good.
They need to be trained. While personal experience is training in itself, the proper training will prevent well meaning veterans from making things worse for some. There is also the issue of insurance. Yep, even with this work.
I am certified as a Chaplain and trauma, have been doing this for over 30 years topped off with a lifetime of dealing with my own events, but I am not on anyone's list. While I can offer to help, I would be shocked if they accepted it.
If you want to help the survivors and families a good thing to do is start a support group. You do this as a volunteer, much like AA is run by volunteers as a peer.
While you do not need special training, there are some things you need to know to do the most good.
First understand the folks you are trying to help. OK, you know what it like to put your life on the line knowing anything could happen but please understand these folks were not expecting to die while they were dancing.
Parents thought their greatest worry was that they would get into an accident on the way home from Pulse. They never expected to have to bury their kids when they went out to just have some fun.
We also need to face the fact that while there were survivors in the club when they shooting started and are dealing with their own survival issues, there were many more who left the club before any of this started. Some of them lost friends and are trying to make sense out of why they left early but their friends decided to stay.
The first thing is that many will be dealing with issues about God. Why did He let this happen?
This had nothing to do with God. It had to do with a small minded angry hateful little man who wanted to blame others for his miserable existence. What came afterwards had plenty to do with God when folks showed up by the thousands.
They risked their lives to help total strangers at the club. Doctors, nurses, police officers, firefighters and civilians did whatever they could do to help. Folks stood in long lines to donate blood and then they donated money to help the families and survivors. One act of hate caused acts of true selfless compassion.
Who lived and who died had nothing to do with God but everything to do with the murderer. It was all about him.
If you want to start a support group, here are some things to know beyond that.
It is not a contest. Do not add in what you went through while they are talking. Just let them know you can understand what it did to them and then listen.
Do not try to fix them. Too often people want to find the right words to get someone past the trauma. They say stupid things like "God only gives us what we can handle" telling them that God did it to them. Yep, that happens all the time.
Every time I survived something my family was there to listen until I was done talking. Most of the time it was letting me sort it all out so I could make sense out of it in a safe place. They gave lousy advice but I knew they loved me and they helped me make my peace with the fact from that moment on, I would not be the same. Trauma changes people the next moment after we survive it. What we do afterwards is up to us even though the "thing" was in someone else's hands.
When I needed professional help, I was not afraid to go for it and between the professionals and my family, I know that is the only reason why I did not end up with PTSD.
Let them know you care. Look them in the eyes. Hold their hand if they want you to. Offer to give them a hug. Ask them what they need. Above all, shut off the cell phone and if you still wear a watch, forget it is there. For those moments you are there for the person you are trying to help and no one else. In other words, so not sit down with them if you only have a few minutes to spare. The worst thing you can do is walk away once you finally get someone to open up and trust you enough to share the hell in their mind.
Stars and Stripes had a great article the other day on how talk therapy works best. It is better to be able to start talking about it as soon as it happens, but in the real world, we have to settle for as soon as possible.
Ask them if they have anyone to talk to at home. If not, then let them know before you leave them that you are there for them and give them your contact information. Try to have contacts to share with them and look up resources so they are not feeling lost.
On a final note, there is a 30 day rule. Usually after trauma, days get a little easier to get up out of bed and begin to heal however, if symptoms they are having do not go away or at least become weaker, they need to see a professional. Let them know that.