What to do and say in the face of a great tragedy

puts people in a bit of a quandary


Almost after every catastrophic natural disaster that the Filipinos have, you’ll see the internet flooded with all sorts of comments and opinions.  Some are solemnly appropriate and compassionate while the others are just plain inconsiderate, unsympathetic and even horrendously apocalyptic.  Some comments run like this: Those affected by the deeply devastating tragedies brought it on themselves for reasons like condoning homosexuality, prostitution, and the like.


The apocalyptic rants are claiming that as prophesied, the world is at its end.  Some try to be funny by making jokes about those.  One such joke, posted in the wake of Typhoon Yolanda some years back, said that with the big number of casualties from the natural calamities, the Philippines doesn’t need the Reproductive Bill anymore.  It’s incredibly insensitive.  Many others turn to bashing politicians for totally irrelevant issues forgetting altogether the major issue at hand.


What is the issue?


Many people have lost loved ones, neighbors, co-workers and friends.  Many have no food, water, clothes and a roof over their heads.  Many are still in a state of shock, still trying to take in the enormity of the damage that is before their eyes.  Others are already grieving.

Although humor is a good trait to keep during times of extreme adversity, there are simply times when humor has no place at all.  The most recent spate of tragedies is one of those.  But those people with the quite inappropriate comments and opinions might not have known any better, actually.  They simply might not have known what to say or how to express their sympathies.


What should we say in times of tragedy?


As most often cited, very little and sometimes, nothing at all.  If you happen to be near those affected, you drop them a visit, give them a hug and a simple “I’m sorry.”  If you’re far away and cannot be physically with them, you can email, call or send them an SMS expressing your deep sympathies and assurance that you are just there for them. As much as I want to cite my sources here, I’ve done way too much reading and digesting great thoughts that I don’t always get to know where they’re from. But I do remember one saying something about “leaving God out of it and leaving out remarks that may be provoking.” I should say that it makes sense.


So we don’t actually have to say a lot during these times, but there a lot of other things that we can do.  Below are just some of those.


  • See to their immediate temporal needs.  Bring food, water, medicine, clothes, blankets, tents, or anything they actually need at the present moment.
  • Help put things in “relative” order.  If their house needs cleaning for instance or something needs fixing, volunteer to do the job.
  • Offer to do as many errands as you can so they will have more personal time to process everything, properly grieve, and not feel even more overwhelmed.
  • Solicit help from friends or organizations in their behalf.
  • Finally, be considerate enough not to post selfies or photos of you having a great time pigging out on your favorite food and the like or shopping somewhere on social networking sites (Not an original idea of mine, but a truly great one. )


These people may need some time to grieve, let them.  There may be long silences or bursts of frenzied talks and crying episodes, but you stay with them all throughout – a sensitive caring friend.  In so far as the people dimension is concerned, that is what these people need the most.

September 8, 2017
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