Published on

Building Bridges by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante

Grief revisited

Emotional reactions to typhoon Haiyan

By Cheryl Dizon-Reynante

In light of the recent tragedy in the Philippines involving typhoon Haiyan, many of us are experiencing emotions such as disbelief, sadness, and anger. As the second most deadly typhoon that has ever hit the Philippines on record, the death toll nears 4,000 according to reports released ten days after the tragedy. CNN reports estimate that another 1600 are missing, but the numbers could be drastically higher. Although estimates around the number of homeless vary, the Philippine government approximates that it is higher than 580,000. The cyclone caused massive devastation in the central Philippines, particularly on Leyte and Samar Island.

But even half a world away in North America, where the climate and culture is drastically different, we feel the pull of close ties to our brothers and sisters, even if we do not have any direct relatives that were impacted. Faces that we see in the media coverage are unknown to us, yet strangely familiar. These people could be our uncles, aunts, cousins, siblings, parents, and friends.

So as we watch a nation repair and heal itself after so much devastation, many of us feel a pull, an aching… a raw emotion that makes us feel vulnerable ourselves. This, my friends, is a reaction called grief.

Grief experienced after the loss of a loved one is difficult, and one of the most stressful experiences that someone can have. But what about when tragedy happens on a much larger level, when so many more people are affected by one event? This brings to mind recent events in history such as the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and hurricane Katrina’s devastation in New Orleans in 2005.

When a national or even global disaster hits, we still experience grief. When we hear story after story of human suffering, see grief-stricken faces of men, women and children in the news, and see video coverage of the aftermath, our hearts break.

Interestingly enough, we all have different reactions to the typhoon Haiyan disaster. Why is that? Simply put, people grieve in different ways. According to the Kubler-Ross theory of grief, there are five stages that people journey through:

Denial: “That many people are homeless now? That can’t be true!” – “The aftermath of the typhoon can’t be as bad as they say on the news.”

Even on a major scale such as a national tragedy with extensive news coverage, we can see people in stages of denial. Even to extreme lengths as stating that the event did not happen. Sometimes, people will turn off the television rather than see images of what is happening in the Philippines. The gravity of the event can be hard for some to bear. Denial is usually a temporary stage as it is an initial defense mechanism, protecting oneself from difficult feelings.

Anger: “This is not fair… how could this be happening to good people? – “What did they do to deserve this?” – “Who is to blame?”

People can be angry with themselves or at other people. Currently, the government of the Philippines is under scrutiny for the aid resources that were put into place and the length of time it took to do so.

Bargaining: “If only God could make things better, I will be a better person.” – “I will pray more and go to church every Sunday if God helps my loved ones in the Philippines.”

People in this third stage are hopeful that they can postpone or delay death. They are seeking a solution to the problem.

Depression: “My heart is aching for my family back home…” – “I find that I am crying a lot for those that are suffering…” – “I feel helpless!”

At this point, it is normal to feel sad, angry, scared and confused. The reality of the situation is setting in, that nothing can be done to change what happened. This is an important stage and one that should not be rushed. A person in this stage is processing what happened and how it is affecting everyone.

Acceptance: “Okay, the typhoon has devastated many lives in the Philippines. What do I do now?” – “So what can be done now? I am only one person.”

Although people can go back and forth throughout the stages of grief, even over a long time, acceptance brings with it some peace, that it is now time to move forward.

Even the smallest monetary donations add up and will make a significant contribution towards relief efforts. Estimates indicate that over 11 million people are affected. For every eligible dollar donated by individual Canadians to registered Canadian charities in response to the impact of typhoon Haiyan on the Philippines and other affected countries, the government will set aside one dollar for the Typhoon Haiyan Relief Fund. Donations must be made from November 9 until December 9, 2013, which leaves only a short time remaining. Some charities accepting donations are Canadian Red Cross, UNICEF, and World Vision. To verify whether an organization is a registered charity, use the Canada Revenue Agency’s charity website.

Let us not forget about the suffering of our brothers and sisters in the Philippines. We are all called to serve one another. Please help those directly affected by the tragedy by giving.

Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is the founder of Nexus Counselling and a licensed counsellor with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. She provides counselling services at 497 Corydon Avenue, 2nd Floor, Winnipeg, MB R3L 0N9. She is a proud member of the Manitoba Filipino Business Council. Cheryl has experience helping clients with issues such as grief, depression, relationship difficulties, parenting, aging and illness. She can be reached at (204) 297-6744 or