Like Sept. 11, surviving families learn to cope
Evertt Briley and his two sons, Grant Briley and Braden Briley, in a family photo.
After working for more than 20 years helping families recover from traumatic incidents, Donna Schuurman has learned to avoid using the phrase “getting over it.”
Schuurman — who works as the executive center of the Dougy Center, a nationally-recognized organization that helps grieving families — likens the process of healing to someone who has been unexpectantly hit by a big wave while on a beach. They might be tossed around, and be hit with another wave, but sooner or later they learn to keep afloat.
This Sept. 11 will mark the ninth anniversary of a traumatic event that the nation is still recovering from. In Portland, and elsewhere, there are people recovering from harrowing events, but there are a number of organizations and individuals out there willing to extend a helping hand.
An event that dramatically changed the course of the life of Stasha Loosli took place in May 2009 when her husband was murdered by a neighbor outside of her St. Helens home for reasons she still doesn’t understand. Loosli was left alone to raise her two sons.
“I can’t do this on my own,” was Loosli of her first reaction, who said her life began to steadily unravel.
In addition to the loss of a second income and difficulties answering questions a father would traditionally answer, she had moments that were particularly straining. When her son graduated from pre-school, she was reminded of her loss looking at the other families. She felt the sting again when her 10-year-old son started playing football, which is something his father had always looked forward to seeing.
But with a little help, things got better. She started attending a support group at the Dougy Center every other week with her boys, which helped the family realize that they weren’t the only ones in their situation and learned ways to cope with their loss. Her father-in-law also moved in to help with the raising of the boys.
Loosli said her home is still decorated with images of her deceased husband, and still keeps his F250 truck. Johnny Cash, one of his favorite musicians, is often played at the house, which causes her older son’s face to light up instantly.
Steadily she realized that she could do it.
Schuurman said that the public often hears the term “post-traumatic stress disorder.” But she wants another term to become more common: “post-traumatic growth.”
Working at the Dougy Center, she described one family of five that had a bad accident where the car they were in rolled. Everyone survived except for their son who was riding in the back seat and didn’t have a seat belt on, which was partly because of the way the vehicle was designed.
The mother of the family championed the issue and started lobbying car manufacturers to make cars that have seatbelts in the back seat that are more accessible.
Loosli said that she underwent her own growth. She said that following her husband’s death she is a stronger more independent person. Additionally, she said she’s less likely to get upset about what she now knows are trivial things.
“It’s hard for me to get mad about stuff,” she said.
Rev. Renee Ward has dealt with no shortage of people reeling from traumatic incidents while working for the police bureau’s Crisis Response Team, which has taken her all over the city.
The team is composed of specially-trained volunteers who help defuse tense law enforcement situations, and are often the first people to contact a family that has lost a loved one.
The idea behind the program is that crisis volunteers are better acquainted with certain communities and help ease the shock someone might be experiencing, in hopes that they provide useful information to police.
“We may not have the answer to the ‘why,’” said Ward of what she often tells victims, “but we are looking for the ‘how.’”
She remembers in 2004 getting a call in church about an urgent situation in the St. Johns area.
Ward said she arrived still wearing her Sunday best to find that the police had already taped off five blocks.
Jahar Perez, an unarmed black motorist, had been shot dead by the police, and the crowd that had amassed was teetering toward becoming riotous.
“There was death in the crowd, and death on the other side of the yellow tape,” said Ward.
Working with other Crisis Response Team volunteers, she helped calm the crowd. Afterwards she ditched her high-heel shoes, and then made her way to the apartment of Perez’s mother.
She comforted the woman who was still trying to understand the death. After the crowd steadily dispersed and under the cover of night, she escorted the mother to a nearby Baptist church where she could say her final goodbyes to her son.
“One Voice, Healing Hearts,” an event for people who are recovering from a traumatic event, will be held this Saturday, Sept. 11, at Holladay Park, N.E. 11th Avenue and Holladay Street from 12 to 4 p.m. It will feature performances from Linda Hornbuckle and the SEI Youth Choir as well as informational booths from organizations that deal with the issue.