Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dealing With Disaster

There seems to be a lot of bad news lately, and whether we realize it or not, our children - and our elders - are watching and listening. While they may not readily express their concerns, it is important to keep an open dialog. If you determine that your children or elders are unduly concerned or preoccupied, reassure them. Here are some examples.

  • News about a recent tornado in a nearby state or city may cause your loved ones to become nervous that impending thunderstorms in your area are going to bring similar devastation.

  • The news of a plane crashing into a home may alarm - and unsettle - your loved ones.
  • The death of a family member or close friend may cause worry. Children may wonder if their own parents or siblings are going to die. Older persons may wonder, "Am I next?"

  • The news of the downturn in the economy may be unsettling. Children may worry that parents will lose their jobs, while older adults may be concerned that they will run out of money.

Last week as I drove my grandmother to her hairdresser's, we passed my church. A stonemason is constructing a new columbarium on the church grounds. Mam-ma asked, "What is that?" I explained, and she said yes, she knew what a columbarium was - and she mentioned a couple of other churches in town that have them. Then she added, "Well, I know that is probably cheaper, but I just don't want to be burned." I assured her that she didn't have to be cremated... and that I would not let that happen. In 1981, my grandparents' house burned to the ground, just a few days before Christmas. They lost virtually everything - the beautiful quilts my grandmother had made over the years... her china and photographs...all of their furniture... pretty well everything except their clothing, the mantel clock, the family Bible and one little photo album. The heat was so intense that it disintegrated a cast-iron, claw-foot bathtub. My grandmother's fear of fire is based on an actual event.

Sometimes an older adult will see siblings having strokes or heart attacks and begin to worry, "Will I be next?" While they may not be able to verbalize this concern, it may manifest in other ways, from subtle changes in diet to withdrawal from activities deemed to be triggers for such an illness. After the loss of their grandmother, a friend's children told her and her husband, "We want you to live to be 200!"

We can't shield our children and older adults from television... and news reports in general. So we must keep the lines of communication open and ascertain what may be running through their minds. We must be ready to reassure them that, while bad things DO happen sometimes, the odds are pretty great that a plane is NOT going to hit your house, and tsunamis in North America are unlikely. Discuss ways to combat the negative thoughts...

  • For adults, you might suggest they make a list of things that concern them, and then list the odds of those things happening. Another good question to ask is, "What is the WORST that can happen... and what are the odds that it will?" Putting things in perspective... and making a plan to deal with them... can be very helpful.
  • For children, talk about "when you heard about the tornado, how did that make you feel?" Then discuss ways to keep your family safe... i.e. developing a "safe room" and/or a preparedness kit. Talk about ways you can help victims of disaster - sending money to the Red Cross, donating to a food bank, finding websites where you can post a note of encouragement. Discuss illness and ways to stay healthy - good eating habits, an exercise plan. Talk about loved ones who have become sick or even died and let the child vent his/her feelings - ask any questions - and simply share their heart without reproach. Offer encouragement that is age appropriate. Encourage drawings and play that allows the child to express his/her feelings. My friend's daughter wrote a song about her grandmother that expressed her sadness.

Sometimes our children and our elders behave in a way that can be mind boggling - and out of character, and we scratch our heads and wonder, "Where did THAT come from?" Just maybe this is the result of some current event - either in the daily news, or in their immediate world. Playing detective and determining the cause of the concern - and then addressing it - can go a long ways toward improving everybody's mood.

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