The Pulse gay night club mass shooting in Orlando gripped our hearts around the world. It was the deadliest of its kind in American history and we’re still hurting.
We grieve the 49 men and women killed and gone too soon that fateful morning in Orlando on June 12. We pray for the survivors in recovery or still fighting for their lives today. We support the families and survivors forever changed. We search for peace and safety after this terrifying tragedy that struck so close to home.
A Community Conversation
In a spirit of unity, love, compassion and remembrance, our community gathered together last week at Empath Health for a special Talking about Tragedy: A Community Conversation for Hope and Healing event. We honored the victims, shared thoughts and experiences as well as learned ways to begin healing from our counseling and spiritual care experts.
Moving Forward with Daily Life
A tragic event, such as the Pulse shooting, can take a toll on your health, well-being and ability to function. Empath Health senior counselor Kathy Quance, MS, CLLS explained some common experiences are:
• Disbelief that the event happened, particularly in such a magical place as Orlando
• Loss of focus
• Loss of safety
• Profound sadness
• Overprotectiveness of loved ones
• Physical ailments (upset stomach, aches or flu-like symptoms)
“Any feelings that you have are o.k. You don’t have to apologize or correct them. Give yourself time to grieve. Grief has no clock,” Quance said. She added that in these difficult times, it’s important to take care of yourself, be patient with others and reach out for support.
She recommended to:
• Eat well
• Be careful of excessive alcohol use
• Get sufficient rest
• Unplug (take breaks from the phone and the news, which can cause secondary trauma)
• Maintain normal routines
• Do what makes you feel safe (sleep with a night light, have someone come stay with you, etc.)
• Talk with someone you trust
• Journal, draw, exercise or other healthy outlets
• Explore Empath Health community counseling services
Coping for Targeted Community Members
While many of us struggle to cope with this horrific act of violence, people in the LGBT community may feel particularly vulnerable and fearful. “It’s another layer of trauma added to our lives. Pulse was a safe place where people could go and be themselves but that feeling was taken away. It reminded us all that we are never truly safe,” said Alessio “Al” Perrone, MS, LMHC, outpatient counseling services supervisor at ASAP (AIDS Service Association of Pinellas), a member of Empath Health.
Perrone said the community has a long history and power to remain strong. “Our community has the resiliency to move us through this tragic event. We have a choice to become paralyzed or propel ourselves to something greater. Our community and country must work together and support each other.
Support is available in many forms, he said. “There are networks of agencies to help or people may talk with their families, pastors or partners. We must express our feelings, be vigilant and protect ourselves and others.”
A Man in Grief
This tragedy hit especially hard for one local man. He came dressed in black mourning the death of his friend and others he knew who were wounded in the massacre. “Today was the first day I could keep my composure. Today was the first day I went back to work. Some friends have asked why the long face and others told me it’s o.k. to be mad,” he shared.
Our staff and other attendees gave him words of encouragement. “Just keep in mind they have no idea what you’re going through. You got out of bed, got dressed and went to work, you need to give yourself credit for that,” Quance said. Perrone added, “There might be days you feel like going to work and other days you don’t. It’s normal.”
Some ideas for support were to speak with his manager or human resources department about opportunities for reasonable accommodations at work as well as to tap into his cultural traditions for comfort. “We don’t talk about grief and we think it gets better. Society wants us to get back to work right away and back to our fun-loving selves,” said Dwight Douglass, a bereavement counselor for Suncoast Hospice, a member of Empath Health.
James “Jim” Andrews, Suncoast Hospice director of spiritual care, added that self-care is essential during times of loss and grief, including meditation, prayer, walking on the beach or talking with people you connect with and trust.
Talking with Minor Children
Many young children are impacted by traumatic events even when we don’t think they know what’s going on and should be able to address their feelings. “There were three major events that weekend in Orlando, including the Pulse shooting, The Voice singer shooting murder at a night club and the toddler attacked and killed by an alligator at Disney. Kids have a heightened awareness of what’s happening and have special needs,” Quance said.
Quance explained children might experience:
• Fear that the parent(s) might die
• Acting out
• Regression to certain behaviors (thumb sucking, bed wetting, sleeping in your room, etc.)
• Being extra drawn to you
• Be honest about the events, answer their questions and keep the communication open (so they don’t create their own versions of the stories)
• Be careful with the language you use about death
• Create a sense of safety, security and comfort
• Tell them you’re doing o.k. and taking care of yourself
• Tell them any feelings they have are o.k.
• Express your own emotions
• Maintain routines and discipline measures
• Provide play time opportunities
• Unplug (put down the phone, limit the news and be present with them 100%)
Community Counseling Support
We are here for you and your loved ones in these traumatic times. Check out our website or call us at (727) 523-3451 for more information on our community counseling services.
Click here to watch the video from our community conversation.