How to Heal after Surviving a Tornado

So you survived a disaster. Now what? Now you have to rebuild your home, your city and your life. You have to start completely over. If you made it through one of the many devastating tornadoes this season, your hard work has only just begun. Malcolm Marler, D.Min., director of pastoral care offers suggestions for healing that go beyond the physical injuries. According to Marler, survivors suffer more than outward wounds after major disasters. They are faced with the difficulty of “survivor guilt,” or getting over the guilt of being left behind.

The following content was posted on the University of Alabama at Birmingham news blog website in response to those suffering from “survivor guilt” from the recent tornado in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The post still holds true for victims, family members and all other survivors recovering from the F5 tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri. Read below for suggestions of hope and healing:

When a terminally ill person passes away, it’s earth-shattering, says Malcolm Marler, D.Min., director of pastoral care, but often the loved one left behind had some time to prepare. In the case of the April 27 tornado, however, healthy, unsuspecting people were sucked into the sky and flung across fields or ripped from their loved one’s arms. Those who remain are filled with sorrow and often guilt, Marler says.

He has to help people answer the question: “Why was I saved and not my loved one?” There’s no real logical answer, he says. “Much of life is a mystery, and not all can be explained,” he tells them. “Living with mystery is what makes us human.”

“Part of it is true guilt,” says Vivian Friedman, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and professor of psychiatry, “especially in the case of spouses. They wish they would have died because living without their partner is difficult.”

Then, sometimes the guilt comes if there is any contributing factor, she says: “They say, ‘If only I told them to go into the basement.’ Or, ‘If only I didn’t ask them to go to the store.’”

But, there are ways to heal:

  • Find a support system – Surround yourself with people who love you and can offer emotional and physical care, Friedman says.
  • Realize that you are not in total control – “We are not in control of every part of our destiny,” Friedman says. Make peace with the fact that there was nothing you could do to prevent the storm and the randomness of the victims who were affected.
  • Find a way to honor your lost loved one – Open a charity in their name or maintain their rose garden, etc., Friedman says. “Death ends their physical presence, but not their influence in your life.”
  • Silence the noise – At some point, you have to turn off the TV and radio, Marler says. Reliving the events of the tornado in the media can have a negative effect.

Take a breather and get back to routine – Find a way to get rest; eat healthy and get back to some kind of routine, Marler says. “It is the hardest thing about this, it upsets routine which presents more stress,” he says.

For more information about the Joplin tornado update, stay tuned to the live radio broadcast on KZRG. For OCH tornado related news, visit http://ochonline.com/newsupdates/. The OCH Jasper County Clinic in Webb City, MO is open to see patients. The clinic is located in   at 112 N. Webb St.  Medical providers will be available to treat patients Monday through Friday from 9am – 5pm.  For additional information, please contact the clinic at 417-673-0366. This medical clinic traditionally sees primary care patients but will be taking non-critical walk-ins during the disaster response. 

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