A Healing Companion
by Sr. Terry Maher
Recent events — both the COVID pandemic and the unjust death of George Floyd — have catapulted us to perhaps feel things we never felt before; to have hard conversations with others; and, perhaps, we have evaluated our own beliefs about people of color. Perhaps we had to dig deep. If we have experienced trauma in our lives, that experience may have surfaced and caused more pain.
In my ministry with families of murder I have learned a lot. At the core of healing from traumatic death is to heal the moral injury that has occurred within the surviving family member(s): the image of God and reliance on those pieces of life that one thought she/he completely understood are not there anymore. Everything about life, creed, family, hope, etc., all need to be found, rumbled with, and redefined.
I am aware of how quickly surviving families are easily triggered as folks hear of yet another person murdered. Triggers can be minor events that cause a person to recall the death event: a smell, a voice; something that touches the memory of the one who died. And, certain events may cause deep pain to resurface for survivors; survivors may experience acute mental health issues such as anxiety, panic or despair — or chronic mental health issues may intensify, including PTSD. A variety of such triggers are unfolding in our streets and on daily news reports in recent weeks:
Perhaps some families have lost a loved one who was killed by a cop.
Some families have lost loved ones, and the cops have not found the perpetrator.
For some, recent riots could trigger feelings of being unsafe, even in one’s own home. Sounds of bullets, tear gas, pellets, etc., can cause anxiety.
For some, violence occurring between two different races — or within the same race — brings back painful reminders of their loved one’s death.
Or, a survivor might feel triggered as words are passed from one to another.
Triggers do not need to make sense. They just happen, and the rest of us need to let them happen and be present and be a companion in the healing process. As a Sister of the Precious Blood, I hope to be present to survivors who share their story and companion them to be reconciled to the event that caused such pain and disruption in their lives. To assist, I use Restorative Storytelling which is a process to remember their deceased loved one not by the murder event but by how that individual lived life.
The grief process for traumatic death is about 15 years. If you encounter someone who may be responding to recent events in an unhealthy way, please listen to their story and be a companion on their journey toward healing. Most probably they have not found too many people with whom to travel.