Sharing Grief, Shock Worldwide on Message Boards

From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 12, 2001 -- From homes, from offices, people all over the world are speaking out through online message boards. How could these terrorist acts have happened to us? Who is responsible? What can I tell my children? What can I tell myself?

Kaylee146 in Canada (WebMD): I can't begin to comprehend what has happened. I'm sitting here watching the television and it's like a bad movie. My question is how do we explain this to our children so they will feel safe to sleep tonight?

AnniePenny in Utah (WebMD): I can't stand to think of how many [people] are dying right now and I can't do anything to help! I feel so useless ... I live so far away from N.Y.

Summer93 in Maine (WebMD): I am with you at 3:00am unable to sleep ... shocked, scared, sad, disbelieving.

Message boards and chat rooms -- the very phenomenon of the Internet -- have indeed provided people with a new sense of community, a place for acceptance and support, says Martha Haun, PhD, associate professor of communications at the University of Houston.

"In times of crisis, you rely on the people closest to you to give you hugs, give you support," Haun tells WebMD. "It's the way we humans take care of ourselves. We call those we love, we need to hear their voices just to feel better, even if they are in no direct threat."

But the Internet gives people something they can't find anywhere else. "The magnitude of this crisis is so great that people need more support nationwide, worldwide. People feel if this could happen to the U.S., it could happen in London, Paris, anywhere."

Specialized message boards provide people a sense of support they can't get from others in their immediate world, says Haun. "People who get involved in message boards are more introspective. Right now, they're having an existential crisis, a crisis of values. Why did God let this happen?"

LaLBSRDMS (AOL): Today I am trying to do my job. It is supposed to be business as usual, but I am numb. How do you continue on? ... This tragedy is so raw, so deep and so painful.

Continued

Everyone handles grief differently, and online it's possible to connect with others -- people who feel the same sense of the crisis -- and give each other support, says Haun. "It's the same reason why Vietnam War vets, why cancer patients get together. You find people who truly understand what you're going through."

Venting your fears, your concerns "is very, very therapeutic," says David Feinberg, MD, medical director of UCLA's neuropsychiatric and behavioral health services division.

"This sense of being heard, of sharing pain, makes you feel like you're not alone," he tells WebMD. "The Internet is one way people have found to cope. People want to vent, be heard."

However, he cautions, don't rely solely on message boards for advice. "Anyone having signs of anxiety or depression -- serious sleep or weight changes, inability to experience pleasure or a heightened startle response, inability to take care of activities of daily living -- should seek professional help," Feinberg says.

And "anyone directly affected by this tragedy should seek professional counseling," he tells WebMD.

Such tragedies have a ripple effect that extends further than might seem obvious, says Feinberg. "Maybe there's an 8-year-old girl living in Cleveland. Her father may be a firefighter. On TV they're talking about firefighters. He's been gone a few days, hasn't come home yet. She doesn't understand what's going on.

"The effects of trauma can be immense, and can drastically change way of life," says Feinberg. "Kids are very perceptive. When there's no karate practice, when mom and dad are acting different, they know things aren't right."

Go to message boards, to chat rooms, "to check in, get your bearings," then move on, Haun tells WebMD. "At some point, you need to turn outward, look beyond yourself, find ways to help like donating blood. When you get to that other-centered orientation, then you're in a healthier mode."

A Glimpse at the Message Boards

But what about the messages themselves, as the smoke cleared and the death toll mounted? Here are just a few posted messages, which likely mirror thoughts around the world.

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First, there was shock and grief:

QMOTO1 (AOL): I worked in the Trade Center and lost at least 50 to 100 of my co-workers and close friends. At first I saw people jumping out of the buildings and could wonder why, but now I feel like I should have done the same. Why am I so lucky to have survived?

Louise92 (WebMD): To watch that much death, terror, and devastation is so unreal to me. I sit here in the comfort of my home and watch thousands of people die. I watch and am helpless, and I can't even give blood because of lupus and because I have had cancer.

MissyDea in Australia (WebMD): I personally feel grief-stricken, as do all Australians, for this could have happened to us.

Hopefullymom in India (WebMD): It was horrifying to watch the news and read the newspapers today. We are shell-shocked that there are human beings who can think such evil. Don't they have families, children, wives?

Younginpain (WebMD): It is not only the people whose family and friends were killed or injured in these attacks who are affected, but the entire nation. Today was the largest attack on American soil. We have survived through many tragedies, and as a nation we will get through this as well.

Lpablowiberg (AOL): Yesterday, as our entire Nation stood at a stand still, I asked God to help us all. I felt deep pain for all the innocent people who lost their lives and I could not control my tears. I felt numb and the pain overwhelmed me.

Louise92 (WebMD): I am sitting at work, feeling lost and horrified. The stories of people jumping from the buildings, the magnitude of the loss of lives and peace of mind for the American people. The incidents just kept happening. I saw the live feed of the plane crashing into the second tower. I saw the horror written on faces of everyone here. I want to crawl in a hole and cry for the world.

There was anger:

AnniePenny (WebMD): I think we are all victims of this ... we have been ripped of our safety.

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Louise92 (WebMD): And somewhere in the deep recesses of my soul burns a rage I did not know I was capable of feeling. It overrules logic, my Christian faith of forgiveness, my usual rabbit personality of run, run, run and hide. I want blood, revenge, and immediate retaliation. To heck with justice.

Blasted (WebMD): I can't stand it, I can't stand the pain of it all. I can't stand everyone asking for peace! The time for peace and talking peace is over! There is no peace possible in the hearts and souls of the evil people who have done this. If I hear another person say we need to pray for peace I think I will explode. Pray for the wounded, the rescue workers, the dead and the surviving families, YES, but I am not ready for peace! I want the people that did this to be held accountable for their actions! In front of the entire world!

And most significant, community members spoke of hope, strength and unity:

JOSHDK2 (AOL): Please do not keep your hatred bottled up, it is not good for you. Please do not hate these horrible people. We all should help each other become a nation of one.

HeretoHelpU (WebMD): As I can't sleep either, while I lay in bed, I will pray for you all to get some rest. Take care and god bless you all (hugs).

Demattd (AOL): I am so, so sorry for your loss. ... I am sure this person was very precious to you. ... You will have a lot of grief work ahead of you, but don't be afraid to go thru it and express your feelings. ... Just be ever so patient with yourself. Be sure to share your loss with a dear one and never be afraid to express the emotions you are going thru right now ... I care a whole lot ... God bless you.

D_laughlin (WebMD): Please, if you do not have a flag, tie red/white/blue ribbons around your mailbox or a tree.

Lpablowiberg (AOL): What took place yesterday will forever be embedded in our minds. And I was proud to hear of the tremendous support that our people immediately gave. Now, the healing begins. And I know it will be a long and hard road to travel on, but united as a people we will be able to go on. Thousands gathered together to pray last night and will continue to do so. Let us remember that we are not alone, we have each other and God is watching over all of us.

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Lyrek (WebMD): What I witnessed today was the most horrifying event I've ever seen, and ever hope to see. Strangely, though, I also saw one of the most beautiful events of my life as well: the selfless acts of camaraderie, heroism, and fellowship by EMS, police, firefighters, and civilians who risk, and for some, lost, their lives in endeavors to save complete strangers. This is something I hope to keep with me always.

ProKrassTinAtor (AOL): You will always be remembered in my heart. You are not gone -- you are just away.

Kathy Snead of WebMD contributed to this report.

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