How Should Natural Disaster Survivors Approach Thanksgiving?

Nov. 22, 2011
2011 was one of the deadliest years for natural disasters in the United States since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. From blizzards to floods to tornadoes, hundreds of people across the country lost their lives. Now, with Thanksgiving approaching, how should the survivors of these disasters approach a holiday based on gratitude?

"For survivors of natural disasters earlier this year, this may be a very different holiday season; they’re grateful for their lives, but guilty that they survived when others didn’t," explained Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "As families gather, many will be reminded of the ones who perished and will not feel holiday joy this year."

When the rest of the country seems to be feeling festive, joyous and ready to celebrate Thanksgiving, these survivors still might be struggling with the aftermath of the disaster. Klapow offered the following tips to ensure the holiday goes as smoothly as possible:

· Accept that this holiday will be different. "Expecting everything to be the same will only lead to disappointment. Accept that this might be difficult, and prepare for the rushes of emotions that may occur," Klapow said.
· Don't over-commit yourself. It’s perfectly fine if survivors are not in a festive mood during the holidays. Choose events that sound most appealing and feel free to decline the ones that feel more like obligations.
· Don’t be afraid to cry. If you’re feeling emotional, allow yourself a moment to grieve or cry before the event. "When emotions are temporarily depleted, it makes it easier to take on the day," Klapow explained.
· Express your gratitude. Try moving forward by modifying traditions or making new ones. Express gratitude for your life and celebrate the lives of those who died.
· Follow your faith. If your faith is important, spend time with people who understand and respect your desire to pray and talk about common beliefs, Klapow suggested.

"As the saying goes, time heals all wounds, and with each passing year, a new normal will begin to emerge," he concluded.

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