Dear families of passengers on Malaysian Airlines flight 370,
You all have been in my prayers from March 8 to this current moment. Honestly, I was afraid to send this letter, because I didn't want to create any additional pain or confusion. Although, I have not been in this exact type of situation, I know the anguish and conflicted emotions that are connected to having a love one leave from home and never return. I also know the pain connected with waiting to hear a word from anyone about what has happened to a loved one. And, I also know the devastation of having someone approach you with news that is not favorable. So, I thought we may have a humanly connection to emotional pain.
My heart is so overwhelmed with grief about what has happened. I guess what I really wanted to share is my experience with traumatic loss (what I knew and what I learned:
- I came to know that investigations, court proceedings etc, interfere with the grief process because getting involved (rightfully so) helps to occupy the mind and decreases the frequency of thoughts about what should have happened, what did happen and what is not happening.
- Because I did not understand why this awful and unfair thing happened, I filled in the blank with my beliefs about what happened.
- Since some people did not know what to say, they attempted to find a problem with how I was dealing with the situation. They placed my grief on time restriction.
- I replayed in my mind the images of the mental pictures that I had taken, of the last time I saw my loved one.
- I vacillated between being angry at myself, the criminal, the system and even my loved one. And, because of the intensity of my anger, I also felt guilty.
- What I did know is that someone needed to pay or take ownership or apologise or just something.
- The guilt extended into thoughts about past events that led to arguments or disagreements, with my loved one and I regretted the natural exchanges and desired every memory to be that of love, peace and happiness.
- There is no established way to grieve. Whatever your process is let it be (unless it results in injury or death!).
- Start journaling your process. What have you been thinking? What do you want to say to your love one, to another family that is experiencing this same loss with you? What do wish you had said?
- The use of the word grief doesn't imply death, it implies a loss of something that strips you of the ability to say the things you did not get to say.
- It's okay to resume with your daily activities, it does not cause others to think negatively about you.
- It is possible that the wait can be long (for me it took almost two years for the trial) and therefore you have to prepare and make appropriate decisions for your life (for example: getting back to work, paying bills, eating healthy and self-care).
Although, I may not speak the same language(s) as you (all the families), I cry the same tears and feel the same types of emotions. If I can't do anything else, I can pray for you all and I can help you to cry (which I have done so many times). Life is hard right now and may even get worse, but keep breathing.
The heart of a stranger
LaQuita Suggs is a therapist in Lakewood, California, and the survivor of a traumatic loss