July 20, 2014 marks the second anniversary of the Aurora Theater shooting, a horrific, undoubtedly surreal tragedy in which 12 people were killed and another 58 injured during a midnight showing ofThe Dark Knight Rises by James Holmes, a former neuroscience graduate student, now facing trial after several postponements and a number of complications. See:
See a detailed history here:
Aurora first commemorated a “Day of Remembrance” last year. Democratic state Rep. Rhonda Fields stated that she “was still numb and in mourning” and that “it hasn’t fully mended after a year.”
Charles Figley, a professor at Tulane University in New Orleans and director of the university’s Traumatology Institute Anniversary said that “observances of tragedies can help victims heal.” He went on to state, “They bring people together and they recognize that they’re not alone, that they are part of something bigger than they are, and that’s protection. It’s a sense of safety.”
Professor Figley noted five questions people who endure a trauma commonly face:
- What happened?
- Why did it happen?
- Why did I act the way I did at the time?
- And since?
- What if it happens again?
For this year’s “Day of Remembrance” in Aurora see:
We need not look too far to appreciate that society thinks it is important to remember tragic events; briefly:
- Pearl Harbor
- JFK’s assassination
- Columbine High School Massacre
- Boston Marathon Bombing
- Newtown Tragedy
- Oklahoma Tornadoes
- Challenger Disaster
- Indian Ocean Tsunami
- Japan’s Tsunami
The list is hardly all-inclusive; apologies for the many not mentioned that continue to be remembered and honored.
Lawrence Langer, author of Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory notes:
It’s essential that we strive to remember past atrocities… and not because learning about them will prevent future atrocities from happening. Instead, the acts of listening, learning and remembering are important steps toward developing empathy for other individuals and cultures.
Preserving memories of traumatic events also helps validate the people who were personally terrorized by them.
As noted by Denise W. Anderson in Moving on After Tragedy:
- Tragedy is life changing.
- The past is gone. There is no future.
- Safety and security are no longer.
- The world is a different place.
- Habits and schedules cease.
- Words are meaningless.
- Numbness is the only feeling.
- Time ceases to define.
- Boundaries are gone.
- Vulnerability is ever present.
Those of us who have delved in crisis work realize that healing is a life-long process. We’ve all been exposed to or affected by or have worked with survivors of traumatic events. Although a movie, Lecter’s question to Clarice at the end of the movie, The Silence of the Lambs, was spot-on: “Well, Clarice, have the lambs stopped screaming?” Ask a trauma survivor old enough to remember if his or her “lambs stopped screaming.”
PTSD symptoms wax and wane and may go into varying degrees of remission. I am somewhat skeptical that a full remission can ever occur (so-called “complete recovery” – see DSM-5 p. 277) absent some acquired condition that eats away at the brain and neuron pathways that store memory because we do not have access to the victim for the rest of his or her life. PTSD symptoms can re-surface for any of a number of reasons:
- A bad dream.
- Being asked questions about the incident.
- Being in the area of the incident or someplace that reminds the person of the incident.
- A sight.
- A sound.
- A smell.
- A news story.
- Witnessing a traumatic incident.
- A song.
- A movie.
- A picture or postcard.
- A letter.
- An unexpected flashback.
- An inadvertent remark or comment.
- Anniversary of the event.
- Some other date of significance (loss of a loved one; etc.).
There are culture-related and gender-related issues, and comorbid disorders in approximately 80% of individuals with PTSD (DSM-5 p. 280) that complicate matters and recovery further.
I still have former patients touch base with me on September 11 to tell me how they spent the day; typically, there is some remembrance and perhaps placing flowers near the site during a gathering with other survivors.
I will now answer my own question at the top of this brief essay, in the title, “Does it Still Matter? Should it?” with a resounding yes!
And what would be your answer?