By Paige Hymson
“Sometimes there are no immediate answers. There will always be questions.”
Rev. Earl Johnson, who served as the national spiritual care manager for the American Red Cross, reminds the public not to forget about the families of passengers on board Malaysia Airline Flight 370. As we eagerly watch as the mystery unfolds, those who truly need answers, are families of the victims. The 239 passengers on board this flight are all unique people, with individual stories, and families who struggle to hold on to hope.
It’s been two weeks since the plane vanished, leaving anguished family members desperate for answers. Many psychologists say that disaster management and response preparedness are vital when addressing victims of mass tragedies. There is a human face behind this missing flight, beyond the media attention and constant speculation. The faces of the family members, many of which are gathered in hotels in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur, are faces of grief and of agonizing pain.
Loved ones of the passengers need health professionals who can understand and care for their current grief and suffering. Clinical psychologist Dr. Jeff Gardere spoke with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Friday about how to properly care for victims of disasters.
While some family members hold on to hope, and others cry in distress, “A lot more needs to be done,” Gardere told Tapper. “A lot more tenderness, kindness, but if nothing else, consistent information.”
The complete lack of information regarding the whereabouts of flight 370 brings about a unique condition for the grieving families. What if the plane is never found?
“As the days go on, there is less and less hope,” Gardere told Tapper. “And then we start looking at probably, the fact that there’s virtually no way, it’s impossible, that there are survivors to whatever may have happened here. So in time, they [families] will begin to go through that grieving process. In time they will get better.”
The image of the distraught mother, who wept as she was dragged out of the press room in Sepang, Malaysia, represents the distress and frustration felt by family members of the victims. So far, loved ones of the passengers have been mostly left out of the media spot light. Yet, as two weeks have gone by, grief counselors and management specialists say this is a crucial time for psychological care.
Rev. Johnson, who for ten years assessed emotional support plans for victims of mass fatality events, urges responders in Malaysia and Beijing to “listen to the families”. In Beijing on Friday, high-ranking Malaysian officials briefed the families for the first time since the plane vanished roughly two weeks ago.
“Knowledge lessens anxiety,” Rev. Johnson said.
Many experts say that communication is extremely important in times of disaster. Some individuals, who lost family members on Air France flight 447, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009, are speaking out about their personal grieving processes. Gardere says that communicating with others who experienced a similar ordeal can function as an “informal support group” throughout the coping process.
“Now is that time to turn to that higher power, to pray, to look at a way that together you can communicate,” Gardere told Tapper. “Every day is a gift, and we must hold on to that.”
Rev. Earl Johnson speaks with Candy Crowley on Sunday to offer his own thoughts and advice concerning the loved ones of the 239 passengers on board Malaysia Flight 370.