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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