On Sept. 11, the atrocity of war came into the living rooms of America, broadcast live and in color from the very symbols of our nation's might.
Throughout the country, Americans stood paralyzed, watching in shock as commercial airplanes slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, ending thousands of lives and transforming life as we know it. We are now faced with the daunting task of trying to get beyond the sorrow, fear and anger and to carry on with our everyday lives.
We are embarking upon a long journey of healing, one that profoundly affects those of us who suffered personal losses in the attacks, as well as those of us who watched the tragedy unfold on television. For those of us who did not directly experience the loss of a loved one, we still grapple with the fear, grief and uncertainty the tragedy carries.
The images we have seen create a trauma that may affect people nationwide in the coming weeks. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can occur after witnessing life-threatening events, such as military combat, terrorist incidents or natural disasters.
People who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged. These symptoms can unfold up to six months after the trigger incident and may last long enough to significantly impair the person's daily life.
Therapists say the terrorist attacks were so traumatic they have triggered powerful reactions even among those with no direct ties to the blasts.
Children are particularly vulnerable to the images we have seen and the uncertainties that lie ahead. In the coming days, children may become unwilling to be separated from their parents or experience nightmares as they struggle to process what they have seen. Parents must discuss the attacks in a way their children can understand and reassure them.
At Catholic Charities, we are helping individuals and families cope with tragedy by putting their fears into context, helping develop coping mechanisms and defining support through social interaction. People may not want to talk about it today, or tomorrow, but organizations in our community are ready to help should they need guidance in the coming months.
MSGR. HENRY J. GUGINO Diocesan Director of Catholic Charities