Coping with Grief Following a Natural Disaster

Coping with grief following a natural disaster is hard and stressful.

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You may associate grief only with the death of a loved one however, many people will have and continue to face grief from natural disasters such as we are experiencing in America with the wildfires and two major hurricanes. We have witnessed not only loss of life but deep grief at the loss of property, pets, jobs and the routine of everyday life.

When people experience any significant loss, they also experience grief. Grief is as human and inescapable as growing older. Those who experience loss from natural disasters will experience the same stages of grief as from a death.

Grief is real for those who just lost their home filled with history and memories that washed away, Grief is real when you don’t have a change of clothes, or dry pair of shoes. Grief is real when you don’t have a job to go to because the building is now gone as is the school the kids attend along with the daycare center.

Fear sets in when you wake up at a shelter or friends not knowing what the day will bring, where you will live and when life will become normal again. These are the same feelings we experience following the death of a loved one.

I have experienced both. I lost my husband and mother within a month of one another and more recently I lost my home in a fire. I remember leaving my burning house with only the clothes on my back, my purse and my cat. I woke up the next day at my neighbors’ house wondering what was I going to do? Where would I live, how would I do my job as I worked from home? I wondered were all my most precious memories gone?

I had the same feelings when I woke up after my husband died, after everyone went home and back to their lives wondering how would I survive? What would I do next. How will I get back into a routine and where do I start to rebuild my life?

Stress Following Disasters

Each person copes with stress differently following a natural disaster. Some of the signs could include:
• Difficulty communicating thoughts
• Difficulty sleeping
• Difficulty maintaining balance in their lives
• Low threshold of frustration
• Increased use of drugs/alcohol
• Depression, sadness
• Feelings of hopelessness
• Mood-swings and easy bouts of crying
• Overwhelming guilt and self-doubt

I experienced many of these stressors both following deaths and loss of my home. How we handle the stress I believe will determine our future. I find what has helped me cope and move forward was the support and physical help from family, friends and outsiders who offer assistance.

In natural disasters, there are so many people that need help but be assured organizations such as the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, local fire and police all are there to help and to accept their support can take away some of the stress.

Letting Others In

In times of natural disasters, you see communities and neighbors pull together – that’s what we do.
When strangers offer to help, say YES. Accepting help is not a sign of weakness and it is the most loving act we can offer another human being.

Giving Back

I have found that people who are grieving the death of a loved one can find purpose again in helping others in their time of need. It takes us outside of ourselves and our own grief even temporarily. I also find that those grieving their own losses can offer more compassionate support because they understand the feelings of loss and therefore can share suffering and hope in a deep and meaningful way. That is healing for the giver and receiver. That is a real gift you have can give someone else and put meaning into your own life.
So how could you help? Find ways to volunteer and lend a hand up to others during a disaster. Your compassion would make all the difference to someone suffering.

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” – Charles Dickens

The key to healing is working through and past the death or disaster and into a new and hopeful future. It takes time and trust.

How Can You Help?

Coping with grief following a natural disaster is hard and stressful and sometimes all we can do is give financial support. I believe giving to trustworthy organizations who are on the ground in the communities is a worthy way to be supportive. You can know many other organizations but here are two:

American Red Cross Disaster Relief
Salvation Army Disaster Relief

picture of JoAnne Funch JoAnne Funch

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6 Responses to Coping with Grief Following a Natural Disaster

  • dearest @maicah many people put aside happiness for fear of loss and heartache. Consider this, loss and heartache are universal – something we all experience, it is part of life. Happiness is your birthright, we all are meant to live happy lives and we only get one chance to do that. I’m sure your loved one who has passed wants nothing more for you than happiness, so go out and be happy!- JoAnne

  • I used to get sadness with me as my comfort because i think that im afraid to be happy because I m afraid to get hurt again. is this irrational. how to break this? Every day I get used of frustration without getting tired of it. I imagine that i am courageous to be sad and feel hopeless than to feel happy . i think I’m always meticulous in whatever i do but it ends to nothing, but im ok being that way.. even though its hard but i get use to be.

  • Thank you @Janet for taking the time to comment. I’m glad to have brought out a perspective you may not have thought about. There is so much loss and subsequent grief in people all around us. It has taught me to be a more compassionate listener of other people. Take Care – JoAnne

  • Dear JoAnne,

    Thank you so much for sending me the link to your new post. I am very sorry for the loss of your husband, your mother, home, and other losses you have endured. I learned so much about grief I myself was thinking of grief by way of loss of a oved one but losing a home, job, divorce, natural disasters, loved ones, memories of all that one knows and has lived with leaves the person devastated and in grief. I’m sure reaching out and helping others in need takes away some pain as it causes one to think of someone else. Giving to make some one happy. I am grateful and thankful to receive this new post you opened my eyes to things I never thought before.

  • Thank you @Ron I love the idea of performing random acts of kindness. It ties in to the comment I made about the value of giving back. When we put our focus on others it now becomes a healing act for ourselves.
    By the way, I am well. Have been back in my home for a little over a year now. I place much less emphasis on the ‘things’ in the house – most things are replaceable. – JoAnne

  • JoAnne,

    Sorry to read about your house fire. I hope that you are doing well.

    There is a connection in the stages one goes through with grief in the loss of a loved one and grief experienced with a life changing disaster. While one is more tragic than the other, the stages one goes through are similar. It does take time.

    One thing that I do each day is a random at of kindness. Some people are aware of my acts of kindness while others are not. I have done this for a long time and will continue to do so. By doing this I expect nothing in return but hope my act of kindness makes a difference in that person’s life.

    JoAnne I wish you well and I appreciate your words of support.

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