Promoting Hope, Preventing Suicide

Research and advice on preventing teen and adult suicide

Resilience and Healing: Can We Grow From Tragedy?

How the Boston Marathon bombing spotlights human strength

In recent days, a city often described as rough and rude has instead been described as resilient.

As a Boston resident writing this post just two days after police captured Dzhokhar Tsarnaev following the Boston Marathon bombing, I can say that the city, strangely, feels normal, if such a description can ever be said to be true. As I walked through my neighborhood this afternoon, I heard impatient drivers honking horns, saw people walking their dogs and strolling with their babies, and smelled the first blooms of hyacinth.

As I noticed each of these ordinary parts of life in this city, I really noticed them. They stood out as extraordinary. To be here, still, seems remarkable. With the backdrop of this week’s events, that drivers will still honk, flowers will still bloom - both seem impossible.

Though I am proud of the resilience of my city and the way that people have come together at a time of crisis, I hope that the stories of resilience we hear in the coming months will be the stories of the people who survived the bombing.

These are people whose lives have been forever changed. I don’t imagine them “bouncing back,” the way we sometimes colloquially speak of resilience. Instead, I imagine them more like the bulbs that bloom into flowers in the spring - they will be still, gathering strength over time. Slowly, a new life will come into view and they will push through.

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This pushing through happened for one man whose story has been told quite a bit this week. Carlos Arredondo is now famous - he’s the man seen in photographs alongside bombing victim Jeff Bauman. He’s the man in the cowboy hat.

Carlos Arredondo is like a phoenix: After his older son Alex died while serving in Iraq, Carlos made a very serious suicide attempt. He survived, becoming an anti-war activist, which is what brought him to Boston, where he was able to play a part in saving the life of a young man.

Brian Arredondo, Carlos’s younger son, died by suicide, unable to “bounce back” after dealing with his brother’s death and his father’s suicide attempt.

As I read the story of the Arredondo family, part of me saw it as a “suicide story,” where the specter of suicide haunts a family. And part of me saw it as a poignantly human story, a real story of a real family facing the complexity of real life.

The individuals and families affected by this week’s events face such complexity. My wish for those who survived the bombing is that they continue to survive. I have thought so often this week that suicide may seem like the right answer as these individuals face the question, “What is my life now?” We have someone we can look to for a better answer. When given a second chance, Carlos Arredondo chose life.

Many have called Arredondo a hero for what he did on Monday, running into a scene of total chaos to help. But, as a friend said earlier this week, “wasn’t Arredondo a hero long before Monday?” To survive, to be resilient, to build a new life. That is heroic.

Copyright 2013, Elana Premack Sandler. All rights reserved.

 

Elana Premack Sandler, L.C.S.W., M.P.H., is a public health social worker specializing in violence and injury prevention and adolescent health promotion.

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