Dealing With Tragic Events


by Chaplain Bruce Lacillade, M.Div.

Bruce_Lacillade_150_150We have recently experienced a seemingly large number of tragic events in the U.S. These include, but are not limited to, wild fires, the Oklahoma tornadoes, rail transportation accidents, the Boston Marathon bombings, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, Super-storm Sandy, and hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and just recently the Colorado floods, and the shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington.

These events are devastating, not only to individuals and entire communities, but also the society as a whole. Such events are difficult to process and challenge our resiliency, both as individuals and as a people. However, let us remember that we have overcome past tragedies, and with faith, optimism and action, we will overcome our present tragedies.

BruceAs humans we tend to view disasters as uncommon events, while experience shows that catastrophes are actually the norm and stable systems the outliers. Dr. Michael Larranaga of Oklahoma University stated in a recent article that, “Many modern energy, industrial, transportation, health care, telecommunications, and political systems are highly vulnerable to small changes that propagate and develop into major disasters. The systemic tendency to unravel, decay uncontrollably, or move from order to disorder (e.g. disaster) is a characteristic of all natural and human-made systems and is defined by Newton’s Second Law of thermodynamics as ‘entropy’.”

However, just as tragic events evoke thoughts of anger and revenge; human suffering also evokes feelings of compassion and respect. After every disaster we hear how neighbors/victims came together to form strong bonds. We hear terms like “Boston Strong,” “OKstrong,” and “Vermont Strong.” We hear people saying things like “In this town we are a strong people, we will get through this.” “This is what we in the great State of_____ do, we come together to help each other.” We hear this all the time and to me this proves that we are indeed a strong Nation and a resilient people. This coming together of neighbors, of victims, this connecting, talking and helping each other, helps us to process a tragic event. With tragic events happening all too often it is easy to become angry. However, by connecting with others one can talk through things and become more adept to taking care of oneself and others.

Human suffering is nothing new. We can look at The Book of Job or the Four Distressing Sights of Siddhartha (Buddha). There is universality to suffering. In his Encyclical ‘Salvifici Doloris’, Blessed John Paul II wrote, “People who suffer become similar to one another through the analogy of their situation, the trial of their destiny, or through their need for understanding and care, and perhaps above all through the persistent question of the meaning of suffering.”

We are all pretty much the same, subject to similar feelings, successes and failings. We all love, hurt, hope, and dream. In the major world religions we proclaim the essential good of existence and the good of that which exists; we acknowledge the goodness of the Creator and proclaim the good of creatures.

I am not writing to answer the great mystery of suffering nor am I saying that it is easy to rebuild lives; it’s not, I know, for I too am wounded by past events. What I am saying is that we can get through tragic events. We have survived catastrophic events in the past and we will survive present ones.

We can start by breathing. Tragic events can take our breath away. We must focus on breathing; start by taking a few deepStoney Creek and calming breaths.

We need to also connect with others, to reach out to others who are going through the tragedy with us. Talk, touch, hug, and cry, it all helps.

Help others where possible as this will help you deal with the issues of the event.

And don’t forget to eat! And not just junk, eat well balanced meals; your body needs the nutrition to heal from the stress of the event.

The sun will come up tomorrow, it may still be raining, but above the rain clouds the sun is shining.

Written by Bruce Lacillade
Copy written May, 2013 and Revised September, 2013

About the Author: Bruce Lacillade was born and raised in a small town in Vermont. He is a U.S. Navy Veteran having served as a Medical Corpsman attached to the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam. After the military, Bruce found himself in Toronto, Ontario Canada. He served twenty-five years with the Burlington Ontario Fire Department; 10 years as a firefighter and 15 years as a Fire Prevention Inspector in the Fire Prevention Division. He took an early retirement in the fall of 2001.

After the fire department, Bruce completed a Master of Arts degree in Divinity. He has served as the American Legion Chaplain for Ontario, Canada for the past twenty years as well as the Chaplain for the United Council of Veterans (Hamilton, Ontario and Area). He re-entered the fire protection field seven years ago as a Fire Protection Specialist and has since published two books on fire protection. Bruce lives with his wife, daughter, and Zoey the Wonder dog in the Niagara Region of Ontario.