We all know that bad things can happen to anyone at any time, at least intellectually. It is especially difficult when we see tragedy in the news and wonder how families ever recover from it.
Lisa Belkin recently highlighted the legacy of pain and trauma across generations in her Motherlode blog on The New York Times website. The blog discussed the complex Madoff Father/Son relationship following the suicide of Mark Madoff, son of Bernie Madoff. The saddest aspect to that story was that his young son was at home when the suicide occurred and his other three children will someday face their own choices with how to deal with the pain that is inherent in life.
They will have to choose whether or not to follow the path of self-destruction, leaving wreckage for the next generation or finding another way. At the end of the blog, Belkin posed the question "How do families begin to heal?" and I felt compelled to respond to that - in part due to personal experience.
The short answer is one person at a time over a long period of time. The impact of tragedy and healing can be equally powerful and can positively or negatively change a family across generations. It is not a given that we must repeat history or that we will suffer forever. We will always have choices.
When faced with challenges or disaster we are most often driven to ask why? Or why me? The recent shooting in Arizona has prompted many to ask, "What could possibly motivate Jared Loughner to shoot a crowd of helpless people?"
Having been touched by senseless violence causing the death of two members of my family -- I experienced firsthand the desperate need to find an answer to that question or to find someone or something to blame realizing at the same time that there is no simple answer. Even if we could come up with one it would only raise further questions and perhaps a moment of pause but no comfort. Blaming keeps us stuck in the trauma but forgiving too quickly can do that as well.
I have witnessed healing both in my own family and with thousands of clients over a long career as a therapist. Those who are able to heal share some common experiences, traits, and outcomes. The following list does not reflect everyone's experience but includes many of the things that have proved helpful in recovering from the unthinkable events in our lives.
1. Love. Being surrounded with family, friends and even strangers who deeply care creates an energy field around the grieving and traumatized that seems to shelter them from a frightening world. This is most important in the beginning but is needed long term from at least a few close supporters and also some new ones along the way.
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