This past Thursday (7/18/14), Malaysian Airlines flight MH 17 was hit by a missile while flying over the Ukraine. All told, 298 individuals from 11 countries, including 80 children were killed.
Recalling My Past
When I first heard of this tragic event, I immediately recalled the terrorist attack involving Pan Am Flight 103 on December 21, 1988. Pan Am Flight 103, a London to New York flight, exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. A total of 270 people were killed, 259 of which had been on board the plane and another 11 had been killed from the debris that hit the ground. Thirty-five of the victims were Syracuse University students, one whose father lived next door to my family and me for a period of time.
Happy To Detach
I did not fully appreciate the impact that the tragedy involving Pan Am Flight 103 had on my neighbor or the other the victims’ family and the world back in 1988. My life back then was predictable and not marred by catastrophic events that defied the laws of the natural universe. I felt badly for the victims and their families but simultaneously was grateful that I was not personally affected. In retrospect, I was probably detached from all of the subsequent coverage of the event and the implications it had for those families and friends left to pick up the pieces of a shattered present and an uncertain future. My life was good; within my control. For me, predictability and routine were never catalysts for introspection about or empathy with those impacted by global tragedies.
A Shift in Perspective
However in 2014, much has changed for me. I am in the 12th year of a life path that I could not have envisioned back in 1988. On March 1,2003, my 18-year-old daughter Jeannine died of a rare and aggressive form of cancer. I was no longer unscathed by unspeakable personal tragedy. My life was in chaos and the foundation of my beliefs, which ensured predictability and order, was shattered into a million little pieces. I had to gradually rebuild that foundation with values that reflected my redefined world. Today, as a result, my thoughts on the Malaysian Airline tragedy and similar global catastrophic events, is profoundly influenced by my own personal challenges I have encountered following Jeannine’s death.
In this moment, I am experiencing much empathy for the families whose lives were, without warning, so deeply shattered due to the Malaysian Airline Tragedy. Though Jeannine did not die as a result of a sudden death, I can identify with the emotions, disbelief and disorientation that arise when loss that defies logic occurs. My thoughts will be with all families affected, and in particular with those parents and families of the 80 children who died .I will forever be connected to them because we are all walking a path that we did not willingly sign up for or embrace. 36 years later, I have similar thoughts and feelings for the families of the 35 Syracuse University students who died in Lockerbie. Today, I can’t reflect on present life-altering events without examining my past, but I have learned that everything is connected.
- The victims in the Malaysian airline crash come from 11 different countries. It is important that professionals working with the victims’ friends and families be aware of unique cultural differences that will affect their grief and how it is expressed.
- Though the pain of catastrophic loss is universal, there are unique issues related to cause of death. I have spoken to numerous families whose loved ones died suddenly. They relate feelings of feeling robbed and frustration about not being able to say goodbye. We need to, as professionals ,be sensitive to those issues and help those left behind address them effectively. Validation of feelings and witnessing stories will be crucial for those professionals charged with helping those left behind begin to rebuild their uncertain worlds. Ritual and ceremony will be useful tools to facilitate movement in these areas and to promote continuing bonds between the families and their deceased family members.
- It is important for those professionals working with surviving friends and families to be present for the long run. Any intervention strategies also need to be conducted with safety and structure in mind, given the traumatic nature of the deaths of the passengers on Flight MH 17.
- Given what we know from Newtown and Columbine, the residents of those communities and countries affected will create an atmosphere of love and unconditional support to promote healing.
- It is my wish that those affected in all 11 countries find a way to reach out to each other in a true show of global support and empathy. As a result of the challenges that will surface due to Thursday’s tragic events, we have the opportunity to transcend cultural barriers and create a compassionate presence worldwide that will promote ongoing growth and transformation.
“When you change the way you see the world, you change the world.”- Warren McDonald