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The MH370 mystery as a human crisis

 | March 24, 2014

What can we do to ease the pain of desperate families?


Family Search and rescue MH 370A tragedy, by definition, is a story without a happy ending. Therefore, at least until more is known about what happened to Flight MH370, it would be heartless to use the word to characterise its disappearance, as some writers have done.

But the mystery has certainly brought on a human crisis. And a stark reminder of this was given to us last Wednesday when a few relatives of some of the passengers stormed into the media room at Hotel Sama Sama to vent out their frustrations.

They had reached the limit of coping with the anxiety of waiting for some information that might give them a string of hope that their loved ones were safe. They had waited and prayed for nearly two weeks without receiving any guarantee of relief from their worries and confusion and had finally crossed the threshold from patience to anger.

In this situation, the important but difficult question to ask ourselves is: “What should we tell these families and what can we do to ease their pain?”

I believe that Malaysia Airlines and the Malaysian government have been sincere in trying to do their best to resolve the crisis, especially its human dimension. They have brought in professional therapists to counsel the families, assigned representatives from various authorities to keep them updated on the search and rescue efforts and taken a number of measures to protect them from being harangued by the media hordes.

Nevertheless, no one can claim to know a perfect method of managing such an unprecedented crisis.

Still, we have to keep reassuring the affected families that the safety of their relatives is our uppermost concern and the primary reason for the international effort to find the plane as soon as possible. In other words, we should leave them with no doubt that we care deeply for them and their loved ones.

My personal take on the matter is that the families should have remained in their homes and be regularly contacted by a family response centre. That might have kept the anxiety levels from boiling over.

A Chinese family member of a passenger onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 screams as she is being brought into a room outside the media conference area at a hotel near Kuala Lumpur International AirportIn Wednesday’s outburst, the Chinese families demanded answers and transparency. This could mean that they had panicked after hearing so many different and sometimes conflicting reports and views about the plane’s disappearance and its current whereabouts. They must have thought that the only way to end the waiting and the anxiety was to put pressure on the authorities.

Their emotions had been pulled to extremes. At this stage, trying to pacify them would only lead to more frustration, mistrust and defiance.

Grief conditions can overwhelm logic because the mind has been exhausted by anxiety, confusion and loss of hope.

Being in their own homes would allow them to be emotionally sheltered by familiar surroundings. It would give them better opportunities for quiet thoughts and prayer, either alone or with neighbours, relatives, friends or religious support groups.

People never fully recover from losing those they deeply love. They are changed by the loss, but the result of that change could be a new strength or a positive emotion.

However, if the process of mental mourning does not take place, grief may be delayed or show up in a negative way. Abnormal grief, which is an intense and enduring response, increases the risk of developing psychosomatic symptoms like illness, irritability and anger. When a person is unwilling or unable to mental mourn, stress is maintained until other life events help to bring the grief into focus.

The normal initial reaction to loss is shock. The reality of the situation is then consciously acknowledged. Eventually, detachment is realised and the loss is accepted.

familyAccepting that loss is part of the natural order of life can alleviate grief. Everyone, whatever his age or culture, has ways of dealing with grief and these can lead to acceptance.

The media hype surrounding MH370 will dwindle and cool off once the plane is found, and Malaysia Airlines’ family support centre will eventually close down. It is then that reality will kick in.

We wish and pray that the affected families will find their strength in God to accept whatever it is that may result from the search and rescue operation. Our hearts and prayers are with you, dear families and your loved ones. You will never be alone in this ordeal.

Julian Leicester is a hypnotherapist who writes on mind strategies and symptoms. Write to him at [email protected] about your issues and he will reply either directly to you or through his column.


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