Letters

Letters

Supporting those who were on scene is a delicate dance

Boston and the larger community are struggling to cope with the impact of awful scenes of catastrophic injuries and terror. A friend writes to me for advice: “I have a close friend who has worked the medical tent for many Boston Marathons. He saw some ‘awful stuff’ when the tent was converted for triage. I think people are naturally curious, but friends initiating conversation repeatedly is probably not helpful. Do you have any advice for his well-meaning friends?”

I have some experience in disaster psychiatry, and so I wrote him back to say that the it is best for friends to understand that those on the scene were part of the collateral damage. While their presence there was a blessing for those who were injured, it makes them secondary casualties.

Friends can reach out to show their concern and offer to help. Send food and a thoughtful card. Invite your friend to take a walk for some private time to just be together in a quiet, private place. Don’t ask questions or place your needs ahead of theirs. Encouraging them to vent or relive the experience is often not helpful.

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Let them lead. It’s like dancing. Showing love through listening is best. Suppress your curiosity and the natural urge to tell them that you know how they feel.

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Disasters can be managed effectively when communities build networks of resilience to provide readily accessible practical assistance and emotional support.

Dr. Steven Locke

Wayland