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Caring for survivors?

Listen, listen, listen and listen'

of emotions that hurricane victims experience, one rises to the top: grief over loss. Lutheran Disaster Response, a ministry of the ELCA and Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (www.elca.org/disaster), tends to such issues with its national emotional and spiritual care team. Rick Armstrong, associate director, Lutheran Counseling Services, Orlando, Fla., coordinates that team. The Lutheran talked to Armstrong about caring for evacuees of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The Lutheran: What stories of loss and grief are you hearing?

Armstrong: We’re dealing with people whose homes have been totally destroyed by wind, tidal surge or flooding in New Orleans. Things in the home and the home itself are gone. There’s the shell, but when they go back they find they need to pull out the walls and carpet. There’s a question of whether it can be rebuilt.

Sometimes they have generations of family in the area. Often in the cases of such a loss, they comfort each other by going to another family home. But in this case, everybody lost their home. It’s so disempowering for them. They’re caught in a maze.

The survivor’s sense of security is gone. There’s a vulnerability that they never before realized.

Normally when disaster strikes, we also go to our faith community, where care of other people is constant. But many of those churches aren’t there, and there are discussions of whether they ever will be.

Because of the sudden evacuation, support bases and networks of friends are gone. People were taken out on a helicopter or they hopped on a bus, and they don’t know where they are. Add to that the loss of jobs and communities that are on the edge and just may not be rebuilt. And these are people who are the least powerful to insist on it being rebuilt.

We in our culture live in denial. There is a valuable part of denial. If our systems took in all the loss and all that means, it would be more than we could take. Reality steps back in gradually. Pieces come along.

It’s important to remember that losses trigger other losses. All of a sudden we feel so alone, so out of sorts.


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