She was in Ann Arbor along with four colleagues from a university in Tokyo. The professors were members of a study group visiting U.S. agencies in the area which use interdisciplinary teamwork to manage client and patient care needs. They'd visited our in-patient unit just two days before and were preparing to return to Tokyo when they received news of the earthquake and tsunami which hit Fukushima and the surrounding area, and left Tokyo without power, public transportation and with limited lines of communication. She was beside herself. When the earthquake hit, her young children would have been in school and her husband at work. Were they safe? Were they together? Could they find food? Could they get home?
You've no doubt heard stories like this one a which underscore the trauma thousands of people have and still do experience in Japan as the drama of this disaster unfolds. Stories of lives lost, homes and livelihoods destroyed, a nation, which prides itself on its efficient public transportation system now managing with limited or no service in the affected region. And the threat of radioactive contamination of life in the area has sent waves of fear and terror throughout the country and has prompted people to apply for visas and prepare for international travel in hopes of escaping the expected devastation to come. Car owners unable to travel abroad are hampered by gasoline shortages, which prevent them from "leaving town."
Overwhelmed by current demand, crematoriums have been forced to turn away families requesting their services. Mass graves have been dug to accommodate the thousands of bodies in need of immediate disposition. Schools and businesses are closed until May or later as local, prefecture and national government agencies work to address people's current needs while drafting long-range plans to manage the region's logistical nightmare. PTSD specialists from around the world are traveling to Japan to assist local professionals in counseling disaster victims/survivors.
It's a month since this all this began. A month since that professor visiting Ann Arbor heard about the devastation happening at home in Japan and was then unable to hear from family or friends. A month since she was forced to watch and wait while CNN and FOX and all the rest were broadcasting live scenes of the aftermath. A month since she was forced to hold onto the only thing available to her in the moment: hope. Churchill's response to circumstances such as these was, “If you're going through hell, keep going.” Robert Frost, in his long narrative 'A Servant to Servants' suggested, “The best way out is always through.” The leading lights of any number of faith traditions taught that hope and perseverance encourage and sustain. In our daily relationship with death and dying we encounter people facing trauma no less devastating then anything mentioned here. The fear of the unknown, the confusion about which way to go, the uprooting of normal life by the impending death of a loved one can cause a personal tsunami of epic proportions, a shattering of the ground upon which a family or community stand. Our role as hospice staff and volunteers is to encourage and provide what we can of hope, assisting patients and family in accepting and adjusting to a new way of being in the world. It is our gift.
As for the professor, her hope was well founded. A friend had picked her children up from school, taken them home, fed them and put them to bed. Her husband, was unable to get home that first night, arrived home safely the next day. And the professor, after two days of silence from her family, returned to Japan to find them all alive.
Hold on, hang in there, don't give up, this too shall pass, keep going
By Diane Smith
Arbor Hospice Chaplain
By Diane Smith