IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Lessons in Grief for Emergency Managers

I’ve been taught a lesson.

I’ve tallied the numbers many times, both in my direct work as an emergency manager and in blogging here at this site: number of people dead, injured, homes destroyed by being burned, flooded, earthquakes, etc.

What I’ve learned from the recent passing of my wife, Mary, from my own personal grief and that of my family, is that people grieve differently. Behind every loss, be it a person or a possession, there are many memories attached to those left behind, who might be homeless. Yes, they lost “just a house,” but they have lost much more.

For example, I gave my daughter her mother’s engagement and wedding ring set shortly after my wife died. Now she can’t find them and she is very upset with herself. Now, for me, I made a special effort to give the love of my life that ring on the 50th anniversary of our engagement, in a similar style to how I gave her the original ring. I tried to make it special and it was a beautiful ring. But for me it is just a “thing” that I will miss seeing. For my daughter it is another totally different matter. She unexpectedly lost her mother. Then she lost a ring representing Mom. Same issue, two different people, two different responses (one totally expected from my daughter).

The ring may show up eventually. It is insured. If it stays lost that will be a lingering thing for my daughter to deal with the rest of her life.

So, back to emergency management. Behind each loss there is a story. We are dealing with people’s lives and not just a number on a spreadsheet or PowerPoint slide that we brief in the emergency operations center.

My compassion and empathy level for people experiencing different types of losses has gone way up!
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.