Some survivors of the Marathon bombings feel slighted by city
Loud, unexpected sounds can still trigger fear. Crowded places cause anxiety. Once, while waiting for the T, Manya Chylinski thought she saw the approaching train explode, limbs and bodies falling around her, until she realized it was all in her mind.
Spared the physical wounds of the Boston Marathon bombings, Chylinski and many others suffered non-physical injuries: post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety.
Now, as the fourth anniversary of the attack nears, some feel slighted, set apart from the community of survivors. They accuse city officials and other organizers of commemorative events of excluding them from gatherings and tributes they feel could be a source of fellowship and healing.
“I have felt invisible from the beginning,” said Chylinski, 51, a technical writer from the Back Bay who was diagnosed with PTSD after witnessing the attack on Boylston Street. “But knowing the city isn’t taking us into account for the anniversary adds to the feeling of being invisible and marginalized.”
Chylinski, who chairs the survivor advisory panel of the Massachusetts Resiliency Center, a group created to help bombing survivors, said victims with unseen injuries have been excluded from events on One Boston Day on April 15, particularly the annual breakfast that kicks off the anniversary commemorations.
In a letter to more than 500 survivors who are eligible for services from the Resiliency Center, Chylinski wrote that the city provided the group with only a few tickets and “once again planned the anniversary breakfast with only the One Fund survivor list in mind.”
One Fund Boston, which was created shortly after the bombings by then-Mayor Thomas M. Menino and the governor, Deval Patrick, distributed more than $80 million in private contributions to more than 250 survivors. The charity has since shut down, but its recipients remain part of a community who are regularly invited to events to commemorate the attack, especially around its anniversary.
City and former One Fund Boston officials said they have not intentionally excluded any survivors from events.
“The city has been in constant communication with the Massachusetts Resiliency Center and all survivor organizations to ensure inclusive participation,” said Nicole Caravella, a spokeswoman for Mayor Martin J. Walsh, in a statement. She declined to respond to Chylinski’s specific concerns.
In her letter, Chylinski wrote that she and others have repeatedly contacted city officials “to ensure that any events planned by the city will be inclusive of all survivors.”
The small allocation of tickets, she wrote, “marginalizes roughly half of the identified survivor community.”
Survivors with unseen injuries were also not invited to the premieres of “Patriots Day,” a Hollywood film about the attack, and “Boston,” the forthcoming documentary about the Boston Marathon, she said.
Dot Joyce, a former spokeswoman for Menino and One Fund Boston, said that One Boston Day was created with the purpose of including all survivors “to recognize the enormity of what happened” and “the spirit of our city’s tremendous kindness and support of one another in times of tragedy.”
“Our entire city was affected that day,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that some people feel as though they are not included.”
Among those who feel overlooked is Laurie Scher.
Since the attack, when she was volunteering in the medical tent near the finish line, Scher has suffered from depression and PTSD and has had trouble sleeping. She still cringes when she hears loud noises.
“It’s hurtful that we haven’t been included,” said Scher, 56, of the South End. She, too, is upset that only a few survivors from the Resiliency Center were invited to the anniversary breakfast. “The city can’t spring for some more cups of coffee? It seems very petty,” she said. “It’s particularly hurtful to be slighted on that day, when it’s so important for us to be with others and heal together.”
Some survivors said the feeling of estrangement has exacerbated their trauma.
Lynn Crisci, who was having lunch with her boyfriend on Boylston Street when the bombs detonated, said the shock waves ruptured tissues in her brain, worsening a previous brain injury. Among her anxieties now, she said, is missing ways to ease her lingering emotional injuries.
“Some of us feel that if we don’t go to some event, we’re going to miss out on some healing,” said Crisci, 40, who lives in the Back Bay. “What makes it worse is that too many of us feel invisible, less than equal survivors. We have been excluded from so many events, which should have been part of our healing.”
She recently wrote to city officials with her concerns, saying her injuries already made her feel “stigmatized and neglected.”
“This simply reinforces the myth that those who did not apply for the One Fund are not ‘survivors,’ ” she wrote.
She has yet to receive a response, she said.
Barbara Thorp, program director of the One Fund Center, a legacy of the charity that continues to provide support services to survivors at Massachusetts General Hospital, said she hopes the city finds a way to accommodate everyone who wants to be included.
She may soon be working with more survivors who have received services from the Resiliency Center, which will close in June after losing its funding.
“I would personally feel terrible if anyone felt excluded,” she said. “We all need to heal together.”