Dealing With Grief a Lengthy and Complex Process

Darcy Walker Krause

Darcy Walker Krause

When the first images began to roll out on Oct. 7, after processing my own horror and fears as a Jewish mother, I immediately began to think about the tremendous grief and trauma facing the Israeli children and families impacted.

Over the last 15 years, I have worked firsthand with grieving children and families in the City of Philadelphia with a focus on trauma and its effect on grief and attachment. Watching the massacre and kidnappings unfold takes on a different lens when you know what the future can hold in these situations.

For example, I know from my professional experience the long arc of grief and the struggle that many families, particularly children, will face over the coming years following this attack, as they process through the trauma and the loss. I also know that the freeing of the hostages is only the first step in the road ahead.

Although they have only been back for a few hours or days, the stories we are hearing from the hostages, particularly the children, are tragic and traumatic:

When Thomas Hand first held his daughter, Emily (8 when kidnapped, 9 now), she only spoke in a barely audible whisper. She was told to remain virtually silent and whispered only for 50 days of captivity. Her father reports that Emily cries herself to sleep every night and rejects efforts to comfort her.

After being beaten upon arriving in Gaza, Eitan Yahalomi (12) was forced to watch videos that Hamas took on Oct. 7, and we can assume those images included murder and possibly rape. He had a gun held to his head when he cried.

Although Hila Rotem (12) was released, her mother was purposefully separated from her two days before release. She later was released.

Other stories include children returned with their surviving parent held captive in Gaza. Some children returned to learn that both of their parents were murdered. One sibling returned while her brother remained a hostage.

These accounts constitute psychological abuse and terror, which we have come to expect from Hamas, but getting the hostages home is just the first step.

The long-term impact on the children returning from Gaza will be profound.

In addition to the acute trauma, some of these children, as well as adults, may develop PTSD, experiencing hypervigilance when they hear or see noises/situations that remind them of the attacks or captivity; living with vivid memories or nightmares; feeling disconnected or isolated; and living with impairments in essential functions like sleep or concentrating at work or school.

Even if they are lucky enough to not sustain continued trauma, there is a high likelihood of potential intergenerational trauma.

Discovered in the 1960s by Canadian psychiatrist Vivian M. Rakoff, who was working with Holocaust survivors, the American Psychological Association defines intergenerational trauma as “the transmission of trauma or its legacy, in the form of a psychological consequence of an injury or attack, poverty, and so forth, from the generation experiencing the trauma to subsequent generations.” Intergenerational trauma is transferred epigenetically or, in other words, trauma flows through our genes.

The aftermath of the Oct. 7 attack and the kidnapping of hundreds of civilians — children, women, elderly and men — will result in lifelong trauma and grief, with reverberations for generations to come.

So, what do we do?

We must continue to call for the release of the remaining hostages so that they are not subjected to any further abuse and terrorization.

We should fund charities providing evidence-based psychological first aid and longer-term therapeutic interventions.

We should increase education about the effects of trauma, build understanding of intergenerational trauma and normalize the grief process.

As American Jews, we should recognize our own experience of the attack. This trauma can stem from knowing someone killed or kidnapped, experiencing antisemitism afterward or simply doom scrolling. Visual and even written stories can sear our brains, causing vicarious trauma, especially to the extent we see ourselves or our kids in these images. We need to take precautions to protect our well-being.

Finally, we need to step in for our children and other young people in our community. We need to protect what they see and hear on social media.

Our goal should be for them to learn about these events in a developmentally appropriate way. They will inherit the aftermath of what is happening today, and we should equip them.

Darcy Walker Krause is the former executive director of Uplift Center for Grieving Children and is a board member and past president of the board for the National Alliance for Children’s Grief.


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