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Customs (Trauma and Hope)

The Pursuit of Hope and Trauma and the Challenge of Trauma in the Aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami and the Covid 19 Pandemic

Trauma and suffering are an inescapable part of life. However, hope and optimism are also central to the human experience. Balancing these two elements of life often determines our destiny. Trauma can be defined as the after-effect or reaction (mostly negative) to a devastating life event that can occur at any time. The reaction to trauma can be physical, emotional, and/or psychological. Hope, on the other hand, is defined as the idea of having faith, believing in something, or having a positive mindset that something is going to work out. Both hope and trauma can be perceived differently by people as people cope with life events in different ways depending on their life experiences. As humans, we often believe that we can outsmart or avoid the painful stuff life hands us, but inevitably we all will face difficult times and even trauma. We must recognize that a life free of trauma and suffering is an impossible pursuit. Without pain and trauma, we would not know hope and optimism. When natural disasters strike, like the tsunami in 2004 that killed thousands of people in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Thailand, we cannot fathom the devastation as we watch from our comfortable, safe homes. Then in 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic shook the world.   

In 2004, one of the largest tsunamis in history devastated the eastern side of the world causing 250,000 deaths and massive destruction in several Asian countries. What makes this disaster unique is that the lives of both residents and tourists were shattered in minutes while millions around the globe watched in horror. The impact was felt by not only those directly involved but by thousands of people who lost loved ones. The mental, emotional and physical trauma experienced was global.

While the 2004 tsunami is a thing of the past, the trauma it caused remains a constant reminder for the survivors and the victim’s families. Those who experienced the disaster continue to suffer from PTSD, increased fear of dying, and horrible memories of seeing dead bodies and devastation. Many studies conducted to understand the impact on the survivors, concluded that the Indian Ocean tsunami has caused PTSD not only in adults but in all ages as young as fifteen years. Not everyone may understand the hardships these survivors go through every day as it has been almost twenty years since this disaster occurred, however, it is important that we understand the hardships that these individuals face every day and have compassion for the pain others feel.

Despite the destruction the tsunami caused, some positive outcomes transpired. For example, when the tsunami hit, countries from all over the world began working to assist those affected. Medical teams rushed to the rescue while search teams continued to recover missing survivors. Countries that were not impacted by the disaster stepped in to help, offering hope to those who were hopeless. Many more people would have perished in the aftermath if other countries had not provided help and support. This serves as a reminder of how interconnected we all are and how important it is to reach out and care for others. Without the support of caring people, the tsunami devastated countries would not have recovered. These reminders in life would be critical in the years to come.

Fast forward to 2020 when a new, mysterious virus called Covid-19 gripped the world leaving no country unaffected. The pandemic forced entire countries into total lockdown changing everyone’s lives. The pandemic not only caused sickness and death but transformed the way people lived life. Suddenly jobs, businesses, schools, and events of all kinds were shuttered or forced to continue online. These drastic changes put people’s lives in turmoil causing fear, anxiety, and isolation.  Life as we knew it was changed forever.    

Naturally, most people reacted with overwhelming fear and panic as this terrifying crisis was new and medical experts had few answers. The last pandemic occurred over one hundred years ago. The transition from in-person activities such as school and sports to online activities was a difficult change that left many people feeling isolated and lonely. People lost the opportunity to engage in human interaction as Zoom calls and Facetime became the norm. As Katherine Diggory states, “We are social animals. We crave contact with others for support, wellbeing and entertainment. But as our lifestyles become ever more transient and reliant on digital tools, these simple interactions are under threat. Nothing compares to living in real communities and spending actual physical time with the people we love.” This loss of physical and emotional engagement has led to serious mental health problems. Social interaction helps humans deal with major life events such as the loss of a loved one, conflict, daily stressors, and the unknown that the pandemic has caused. The restrictions, social distancing, wearing masks, and being forced to stay home have made people feel alone, powerless, and hopeless.

The loss of daily interactions and loss of community has caused major mental health concerns for millions worldwide.  Covid has caused a tsunami of grief, heartbreak, anger, and many more emotions that many individuals have never experienced. However, as the pandemic does not necessarily affect everyone physically, often the mental toll is not taken as seriously. Perhaps this is because everyone is dealing with the pandemic differently but despite not having physical trauma, people still feel the mental and emotional trauma of the loss of loved ones, jobs, graduation ceremonies, life celebrations, and the normalcy of everyday life. These are just some examples of what people are going through during this pandemic aside from getting sick. These events may not harm individuals physically, but they are harmful to people’s mental well-being. Living in constant fear is stressful and unhealthy. Change is difficult during the best of times and being forced to change your way of life is very hard when the changes feel detrimental. Everyone is suffering in some way and it is important to recognize this and to support each other. It is not a competition of who is suffering more, and I believe many people hide their suffering because they think others are in a worse situation than they are therefore they should not complain. That mentality needs to change if we are to get through this pandemic.

Without a clear end to the pandemic in sight, it is very difficult for people to have hope that things will be ok, especially with the media saying that Covid-19 is here to stay regardless of what we do. Unlike the 2004 tsunami, every country is suffering and people are dying. It feels like every country is only looking after their own needs. Who is helping the Third World countries that cannot afford better healthcare and vaccines? How do we manage this global catastrophe? How is it possible for one to maintain a positive attitude and have hope when the future is uncertain? The answer is to be open and supportive of others. That may seem challenging as we remain socially isolated, but it is the small acts of kindness that go far. Just as the 2004 tsunami brought countries together, we must enhance our ability to come together to help those that cannot help themselves, support each other and provide hope that things will get better. We are all in this together and the only way we will make it through is by standing together and not giving up hope.

The 2004 tsunami and the Covid-19 pandemic can be compared in different ways. Both events have changed the world. Both events have caused pain, suffering, trauma, and loss of life. The tsunami was sudden and many people died without the chance to say good-bye just as many people with Covid have died isolated from their families and loved ones. Both events resulted in the loss of normal life leaving an uncertainness of what is going to happen next. While the tsunami and the pandemic are very different how humans have been impacted and how they have reacted are very similar. Lessons can be taken from how people recovered from the tsunami to help us deal with Covid-19. Both events have shown the good in humanity and how such devastation can bring people together. As Louis Cryer, an 18-year-old survivor of the 2004 tsunami said, “one of the positives to come out of it all was the humanity of it. It didn’t matter about your nationality or religion. Everyone was checking on each other” (BBC News). We must help and support each other otherwise more lives be lost, and people will lose hope. If the world can come together as it did in 2004 we have a chance of getting through the Covid pandemic and come out stronger than before. 


Works Cited

BBC News .“Tsunami Stories: Your Experiences.” BBC News, BBC, 25 Dec. 2014, Feb 5, 2021 www.bbc.com/news/30462238

Bergrud, Kari. “5 Ways to Spread Hope During COVID-19.” Union Gospel Mission, 23 Mar. 2020, www.ugm.ca/spreading-hope-in-the-time-of-covid-19/

Diggory, Katherine. “The Importance of Human Interaction and Relationships.” Explore Life, Explore Life, 10 Dec. 2018, www.explore-life.com/en/articles/the-importance-of-human-interaction-and-relationships

Frankenberg, Elizabeth, et al. “Mental Health in Sumatra After the Tsunami.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 98, no. 9, 2008, pp. 1671–1677., doi:10.2105/ajph.2007.120915

Friedman, Jed, et al. “Resilience and Recovery Ten Years after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami: A Summary of Results from the STAR Project.” World Bank Blogs, 18 Dec. 2014, blogs.worldbank.org/impactevaluations/resilience-and-recovery-ten-years-after-2004-indian-ocean-tsunami-summary-results-star-project

Griggs, Mary Beth. “This Isn't a COVID-19 Wave - It's a Tsunami.” The Verge, The Verge, 2 July 2020, www.theverge.com/21311326/covid-19-coronavirus-wave-tsunami-disaster-virus-deaths-cases-rise-pandemic.

Hetherington, Kimberly. “How I'm Finding Hope in the Pandemic.” Tiny Buddha, 19 May 2020, tinybuddha.com/blog/how-im-finding-hope-in-the-pandemic/

Kar, Nilamadhab, et al. “Long-Term Mental Health Outcomes Following the 2004 Asian Tsunami Disaster: A Comparative Study on Direct and Indirect Exposure.” Disaster Health, Taylor & Francis, 17 Apr. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5314937/

Naskar, Tapan, et al. “Asian Tsunami Disaster.” Top Documentary Films, 23 Dec. 2010, topdocumentaryfilms.com/asian-tsunami-disaster/

Reid, Kathryn. “2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami: Facts, FAQs, and How to Help.” World Vision, 4 June 2020, www.worldvision.org/disaster-relief-news-stories/2004-indian-ocean-earthquake-tsunami-facts

Roos, Dave. “The 2004 Tsunami Wiped Away Towns With 'Mind-Boggling' Destruction.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2 Oct. 2018, www.history.com/news/deadliest-tsunami-2004-indian-ocean

Silver Cohen, Roxane. “Surviving the Trauma of COVID-19.” Science, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 3 July 2020, science.sciencemag.org/content/369/6499/11.full

Smith, Melinda, et al. “How to Cope with Traumatic Events like Coronavirus.” HelpGuide.org, www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/traumatic-stress.htm