In recent days I have found myself reflecting on the upcoming 11th Anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks and the difference a year makes. On this date last year – September 10, 2011 – I was in Manhattan volunteering at a survivor’s information forum sponsored by the VOICES of September 11th, an association founded by a mom after her son was among those killed at the World Trade Center. I had met this mom, Mary Fetchet just weeks before when she delivered a keynote address at “Counselors Remembering 9-11: A Shared Journey”, a workshop I helped to organize through the Connecticut Counseling Association. Mary has a powerful presence and during her presentation, everyone in the audience was mesmerized by her and by the resilience she displayed in choosing to form the VOICES of September 11th, making it her life’s work.
Since then, I have heard her speak many times and feel blessed to consider her a friend. She has taught me many things about counseling 9-11 survivors - VOICES considers all who were effected by 9-11 survivors, not victims; my experiences with her encouraged me to seek further trauma-informed training and I recently earned a Level One Trauma-informed Art Therapy® Certificate.
Another of the meaningful messages I learned from Mary, is many 9-11 survivors haven’t yet begun their grief process. I have seen this in my practice as a trauma specialist. Recently, during an assessment it was clear that despite previous therapy for depression, support groups and commemoration activities, my client hadn’t begun to grieve her father’s death at the World Trade Center. Each year she struggles with anniversary grief reactions and is emotionally flooded as she re-experiences her loss again; she has been stuck in 2001 for the past eleven years.
There is no grief like the grief that does not speak. – Henry Wordsworth
This is a common occurrence with traumatic loss – the desire and need to move on is strong – at times desperate, but they are unable to, trapped in the painful memory when they experienced the loss. This is where trauma-informed therapy and art therapy is so effective. It is akin to a light shone in a dark room.
Our work together has been focused on reinforcing a sense of safety through self-soothing (breath-work, meditation, and mindfulness) and strength-building by using the arts to normalize her reactions, provide emotional stability and enhance her resiliency. Most importantly, we are working to tell her grief-story through art-making which releases the emotional distress instead of increasing it through verbalizing it.
I am very grateful to Mary and her passion for helping 9-11 survivors and training counselors to be responsive to their needs. I hold her in my heart today as she experiences her own grief and loss. She epitomizes the healing that is possible and available to those traumatized.
Deb Del Vecchio-Scully is a counselor and writer who focuses on healing the mind, body and spirit. She specializes in PTSD, Chronic pain and mood disorders. For more information: www.anschealthandwellness.com