The original version of this article ran Dec. 24, 2017.
The second half of 2017 was marked by a particularly punishing cluster of natural disasters ravaging communities across the United States. From destructive hurricanes to the fires that plagued California, our country was shaken by significant natural devastation and loss.
Some losses are more visible than others. The loss of physical property and accompanying financial woes are perhaps the most obvious, but victims of the recent natural disasters are facing a range of less tangible losses as well, which may prove just as – if not more — difficult to cope with over the long term.
Working on the frontlines of the issue of childhood bereavement – through the New York Life Foundation and the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, respectively — we have learned firsthand how “invisible” grief can be, with the potential for long-term detrimental effects on social-emotional behavior and development when it goes unaddressed.
Many insurance professionals are encountering communities and individuals impacted by this year’s natural disasters. By seeking to support those who are grieving losses of all kinds, they can become even more valuable to those who are struggling in these disasters’ aftermath.
Acknowledging “Secondary” Losses
When a natural disaster strikes, loss of property and possessions is often swift and dramatic, creating an immediate crisis for victims. Understandably, typical disaster response efforts tend to focus on meeting basic physical needs in the short term and then, over time, on repairing or replacing what has been lost. Often these efforts neglect to address the grief that so often accompanies all of the physical upheaval.
Yet the deeply felt losses that follow from the “main” physical loss — the “secondary losses” — are incredibly important to address as well.
When someone loses their home, for example, they must not only adjust to the loss of the house itself but also all of the memories that it contained. When they are then displaced from that home, they suffer additional losses, including separation from their neighborhood and community life. Children who are uprooted from their familiar schools, friendships, and routines may feel the impact particularly acutely.
Even those who do not lose their home but live in a community affected by a natural disaster may experience strong feelings of loss, missing the way that their community used to be and the people who have been displaced. At the same time, they may feel “survivor guilt” or dismiss their emotions entirely, reasoning that others have lost so much more.