SAN ANTONIO – Many people watching the tragedy that claimed the lives of 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde unfold say they feel confused, angry, and even despair.
However, professionals say those closest to the trauma, like the victims’ families, likely feel numb. That’s actually normal.
Our bodies respond when the pain is too overwhelming and nothing makes sense.
“What happens initially -- when someone goes through a trauma, their brain sort of shuts down, and they go into automatic survival mode,” said Ashley Jesse, Children’s Bereavement Center counseling supervisor.
It’s a stage of grief that leaves many people feeling numb or going through the motions.
“They really need to get through that stage, get through the funeral, get back into a routine, and that’s when we can look at some of those, perhaps, longer-term therapies,” Jesse said.
Jesse counseled many Sutherland Springs community members after the shooting in 2017 and still does today.
“Many times, people don’t seek help until many years after the incident has happened when they realize, ‘I’m having trouble sleeping. I’m having trouble eating. My mood has changed, or my child’s mood and behavior has changed.’ That’s when they realize ‘I’ve never properly dealt with this,’” Jesse explained.
She hopes people suffering in Uvalde will get help now. That’s where people like Ecumenical Center CEO Mary Beth Fisk come in.
“Our counselors have been available for the families and the community at large and the law enforcement in Uvalde since yesterday afternoon and into last night, and we’re back here today,” Fisk said.
Fisk and her team are operating out of two locations in Uvalde, helping people attempt to process the unfathomable.
“Just this horrific sadness,” she said. “We do need to work on a plan for a longer-term support system for this community.”
While federal and state funding is provided to keep the care in Uvalde, there are other places families can go to get help with grief and trauma.
The Ecumenical Center and Children’s Bereavement Center both offer individual and group therapy in a safe space.
There are ways to know if your child or someone you love needs counseling.
“If a parent notices a child is having trouble functioning, perhaps their mood has changed, their behavior has changed, or they’re having trouble sleeping or eating, maybe they’re having separation anxiety issues,” Jesse said.
Parents and caregivers know how hard it is to talk to their children when tragedies like this happen.
“A young child may say, ‘Why do people do things like this? Am I safe?’ And I think we could tell them and share with them that, ‘Sometimes people do bad things and we don’t know why, but you’re safe, and you’re OK. Let’s talk about things that we can do to help you feel safer,’” Jesse said.
“Listening to them, only giving them facts, limiting exposure to the media,” Fisk added.
Some of those things go for adults too.
“The adults out there who may have past traumas of their own and could be triggered by this horrific event,” Fisk said.
Jesse said it’s normal for people to be traumatized by this shooting, even if they have no direct connection to the tragedy itself.
“It shakes our sense of security and stability, so it can definitely affect anyone. When we have the sense that everything is out of control, it causes anxiety, it causes stress,” Jesse said.
That’s why it’s crucial to find ways of managing that stress, such as:
- trying to eat well
- spending time with loved ones
- loving on your pets
- getting counseling
“Doing something you enjoy, it’s OK to do that. It’s especially important to do those things if we’re grieving and when we’re overwhelmed because it helps us regulate our emotions,” Jesse said.
When talking to someone who has endured trauma, the best thing you can do is listen.
“Just being there for someone. You can say, ‘I’m sorry. This is a horrible thing that happened. I’m here to listen to you. I’m here to sit with you. You let me know what you need.’ And the person will let you know,” Jesse said. “Try to step back from offering advice. We don’t know that person’s pain or that person’s grief, but we can offer to sit with them and just listen.”
Nothing helps like love, kindness, and empathy in times like this.
If you want to speak with a counselor, reach out now.
Reach the Ecumenical Center at (210) 616-0885 or visit the website.
The Children’s Bereavement Center can be reached at (210) 736-4847 or via their website.
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