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Supporting loved ones of the lost coal miners

Supporting loved ones of the lost coal miners

Grieving family, friends and the extended West Coast community need to be given the time to mourn the miners killed in the Pike River Mine disaster, university trauma specialists say.

Children whose loved ones die under sudden or frightening circumstances need special care and attention says Associate Professor Steven Little from the College of Education, who is a specialist in child trauma and is offering his advice and support to the affected community.

Both he and clinical psychologist Ian de Terte say in a large scale grieving situation involving an entire community, those affected should be given the time and space to mourn in a way they want to.

“It’s natural and healthy to grieve for the loss of loved ones at any age,” says Dr Little, who worked with families in the United States following the September 11 terrorism attacks of 2001 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “Children, like adults, need to be able to think about memories of their loved ones in a way that helps them to cope with the pain of a loss.”

“Children who suffer symptoms of a condition known as ‘traumatic grief’ however, are sometimes unable to remember their loved ones in comforting and healing ways, and instead become focused on the way in which they died.

“The key to remember is that not every child will express their grief in the same way, and for adults, there is no single way to respond. The most important thing the community can do when supporting the miners’ families is to be patient and honest with their children.”

Mr de Tete says the public needed to also be aware that the recovery of the miners would not necessarily offer a conclusion of the tragedy for mourners, popularly termed ‘closure,’ but would allow them to resume their daily lives with a greater acceptance and peace of mind.

“It’s not closure. It’s more about accommodating what’s happened.”

The University’s Joint Centre for Disaster Research has prepared fact sheets for people trying to cope in the aftermath of a traumatic event like the coalmine disaster.

These fact sheets which can be accessed via this link http://disasters.massey.ac.nz/index.htm were initially prepared by the Centre, based at the School of Psychology, for Canterbury residents in the days following the earthquake in September.

Given the scale of the tragedy on the West Coast, this information offering tips to help children, adolescents and families in the wake of a disaster, identify common reactions to disasters, and what to do when someone you know has been through a traumatic experience, remains relevant.

In addition, there is information for communities, as well as health staff and volunteers.


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