Today I've been asked to write about something I believed when I was a child that, as an adult, I no longer know to be true. Where to begin?
While there are too many to mention in this space, I'd have to say that when I was young I thought that tragedy brought people closer together. Although such examples do exist, I no longer think this is true.
Movies, tv shows, novels and the like have often portrayed collective victims of trauma as emerging stronger once the event has passed.
Parents of a sick child, faithfully keeping vigil a bedside vigil in the hospital, reflect on their of-late rocky relationship and decide that they must reconcile.
Siblings who are literally locked in a battle of wills after their parents have died suddenly, agree that their disagreements should be set aside and comfort each other.
Survivors of a natural disasters rush to see how neighbors have faired and offer basic necessities to one another as they each rebuild.
And then reality sets in.
The emotions surrounding the event begin to surface, or may have been dormant long before, and are brought into focus.
Resentment. Anger. Jealousy. Betrayal. The blame game begins and there can be no winner.
Over the years, I have known parents who have lost children. Whether it was an accident or disease, there was always a hint of blame about whose fault was it. In one case, it was the vehicle the father was driving that crashed, killing the eldest daughter. In another, a hereditary condition took the life of a son.
In both cases, unbearable grief was compounded by rage directed at the spouse who was responsible, either directly or indirectly. Marriage is such a complex relationship even during the best of times. Add to that feelings of resentment and despair and the likelihood of moving toward your partner, rather than repelling from, diminishes exponentially.
John and Reve Walsh have spoken openly of the toll the death of their son, Adam, had on their marriage. Reve had been with Adam, their only child at the time, when he was abducted from a Sears store near their Florida home. The Walshes had been married for a decade prior to the tragedy and admit that it took years of counseling and intensive work to sustain their relationship.
They say that weddings and funerals are prime time for old wounds to rear their ugly heads, and for adversaries to deepen their grudges.
Personally, I know of adult siblings who have been omitted from their parents' will, or wills. In other cases, the sibling who is the executor of the estate undermines the assets rightfully bequeathed to their brother or sister. One siblings gets the house, while the other gets a painting.
Accusations of "you were always dad's favorite", or "I never got my way" fill the attorney's office. Despite the siblings losing the same parent, or parents, their reaction can escalate or soften based on how they feel about their brother or sister.
After the storm passes and the damage is assessed, the task of making things right and getting back to daily life takes center stage. The insurance adjuster must determine who was covered for what, or who is entitled to what depending on policy details.
Even cases where a fund was established to benefit victims and their families can become contentious over who gets what, how much and why. Feuding can erupt at any time if another party is awarded a greater dollar amount, and legal action often follows.
The point is this: In times of great stress, grief and chaos, people can turn on one another rather than seek comfort and support. It's The Hunger Games meets Lord of the Flies. Every man for himself; forget women and children first.
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