Getting through the day

How we can help each other through Sept. 11

Posted: Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Images of jets crashing into buildings and bodies falling limply from the smoke and flames show on the TV screen and in our heads. We experience heart palpitations and the fear and hurt that our nation is violated and we, its people, are vulnerable.

These physical, mental and emotional manifestations plagued many on Sept. 11, 2001. Juneau clinical psychologist Destiny Sargeant said people should expect to experience something similar on the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

"People don't realize the significance of an anniversary event," said Sargeant, who works for the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium. "New feelings may come, and old ones may come slamming back, and many of us may not be aware of the effect it still has on us.

"It is totally normal to have these feelings, even if you didn't lose anyone in the tragedy. You didn't have to know someone. The whole world was affected on some level," she said. "We all lost a sense of safety and security. We lost our innocence."

Sargeant said "anniversary feelings" can manifest themselves cognitively, emotionally, physically or behaviorally and may include anxiety, depression or stomach discomfort. Sargeant said though many people may relive some of the pain they felt last year, it will not be of the same intensity or duration.

"We've grown in the last year and developed new (coping) skills and we've had some time and distance from the actual event," she said. "No one should expect if they suffered once they will suffer again on the anniversary."

Sargeant said it is important for people to be proactive when dealing with the stress of the day. She suggested wearing patriotic colors Wednesday and joining together at noon to blow a horn or ring a bell three times in honor of the three sites attacked on Sept. 11. The "blasts" are an activity being encouraged nationwide and will help unite people in mourning and remembrance, she said.

For those who need to remember in private, saying a short meditation or prayer may be helpful, Sargeant said.

She said it is important to discuss with children how they feel about the tragedy. However, she said, it is equally important to protect younger children from television images and coverage of the tragedy. She also recommends parents be with their children while they are watching the TV coverage.

At nearly every school in the district, principals said individual teachers are holding discussions and projects in their classrooms that address Sept. 11 at whatever level teachers think is appropriate.

Juneau-Douglas High School Counselor Kathy McCasland said the school is not organizing any specific counseling response for students who are upset on the anniversary of the attacks. To parents, she offered this advice:

"If a student is upset, you need to listen to them, and I mean totally listen. A lot of time when people are upset about things, they don't really want advice, they want parents to be there for them."

Sargeant suggested not discussing Sept. 11 with children under 3 and to limit discussions to a few minutes with children ages 4 to 6.

She also encouraged people who don't feel they will be affected by the anniversary to go out and lend support to someone else who may be having a hard time.

"We are slightly more vulnerable," said Sargeant. "However if you do experience something, go out and get the support you need, go to a memorial service, which is very helpful in the healing process, know that you are normal and that most of Juneau is feeling the same way."

Melanie Plenda can be reached at Julia O'Malley can be reached at

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