What to do when tragedy strikes

By LINDSEY ADKISON The Brunswick News

1The murder of 13-month-old Antonio Santiago and wounding of his mother, Sherry West, in what she says was a robbery attempt on a residential street in Brunswick, have left many mothers and fathers at a loss for words.

Allyn Robb understands. As a licensed professional counselor at Emerald Isle Counseling on St. Simons Island, he knows that adults across the Golden Isles are trying to cope with their own feelings as well as allaying their children's fears.

"Many of us are experiencing grief and sorrow after the shock of the death. The tragic shootings (local and elsewhere) have brought many issues to the forefront: gun control, school safety, mental illness and the daily tragedy of thousands of children around the world who die every day from violence, child abuse, neglect and hunger," Robb said.

"The common reaction is the mind-numbing senselessness of such an act and trying to determine a cause ... when actually there is not cause. Intrusive and distressing thoughts can be common to both (adults and children)."

Parents must find a way to work through their feelings, while helping their little ones do the same. The best way to do this, Robb says, is to stay calm.

"Realize, first, that your own anger will not help as you begin to interact with your child. Seek to be calm, especially when kids are asking questions repeatedly. Tell the kids the exact story, based on facts, not assumptions."

Mary Malcom, a bereavement counselor at Hospice of the Golden Isles in Glynn County, agrees. She also says this may be the proper time to open a discussion about death with children.

"If you have not taken the time to talk about death with your child, start now. If your child has not known a child or family member who has died in a tragic way, start by talking about a family member or friend who died in a less tragic way," she said.

"Think about the losses you experienced when you were the age of the child. Talk about what that loss was like for you, how you felt and how the adults around you reacted to the death. Tell the child what you hope they learn about death. Explain how birth and death are a part of life."

Malcom also suggests keeping the conversations based in reality.

"If the child is frightened by the recent violence, do not promise them that nothing will ever happen to them. Promise that you will work hard to be as safe as possible and will teach them how to resolve conflicts peacefully, when possible, and how to protect yourself when confronted by a person who means you harm," she said.

Another important step is for parents to listen to their children. With the widespread coverage of the shooting in Brunswick, many children have heard about the murder, either from their parents, the media or from friends at school.

Robb says that letting children talk about what they are hearing and allowing them to share their fears is a big step in the right direction.

"Help the kids to identify the feelings they may be experiencing: anger, fear, rage, guilt, helplessness, frustration, detachment, nightmares. Use play therapy, if needed. Many good sources and materials can be found online," he said.

But one thing that everyone, regardless of age, can do is invest some time giving back. These small acts of kindness can add up to make a big difference.

Not only will it help the community as a whole, Robb says, it can also help diffuse the tension and anger one feels inside.

"We should ask ourselves: How can we lift ourselves up from the fear, sadness and negativity? What can we, as individuals, do to make a difference?" he said.

Malcom seconds that. She feels that positive involvement helps both young and old overcome a tragedy.

"Get involved in neighborhood watch programs and community education. Don't pretend that violence doesn't happen in our community," Malcom said. "Teach your children and model behavior that shows that it is possible to handle anger and fear in positive ways. Know what to do if confronted by a person who is threatening."

* Lifestyle Editor Lindsey Adkison writes about lifestyle topics. Contact her at, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 316.

Overcome tragedy

Allyn Robb, a licensed professional counselor at Emerald Isle Counseling on St. Simons Island, suggests one way to prevent tragedy from becoming overwhelming is to direct feelings and energies toward positive activities. Among ways to make the sun shine a little brighter in dark days are:

* Do a random act of kindness for others. It can be anything from buying a stranger a cup of coffee to delivering food to a food bank, like FaithWorks food bank Sparrows Nest or Second Harvest, both in Brunswick.

* Light a candle and say a prayer, even at home, in memory of those who have suffered and their loved ones.

* Send thank-you notes to first responders for what they do to help people year-round.

* Make or listen to music to express your emotions -- whether it be sorrow, love or joy.

* Thank the teachers of your children and grandchildren, nieces or nephews for their support of the kids in your life.

* Make a donation to United Way or another fund to support services to the families and community.

* Dedicate a service at your place of worship to send love and support to those who are suffering from mental illness and violence.

* It may be therapeutic for children to draw a picture or write a letter to the children who have died sending them good wishes.

* Donate books for children or to a local classroom or school library

* Help kids feel secure, cozy and ready to learn through Project Night Night -- which creates overnight bags for homeless kids in shelters.

* Hug the children in your life and tell them you love them ... often.

* Contact a homeless shelter, children's center, pediatric hospital or other program that supports children in need and ask how you can help.