Ignore society’s ‘unhelpful grieving rules’ in wake of Christchurch terrorist attack, counsellor says

Nearly two weeks ago our beliefs and assumptions about our safety in New Zealand were shattered.

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Dr Margaret Agee says the outpouring of grief can lead to tremendous personal growth. Source: 1 NEWS

As a nation we were thrust into grieving for the loss of 50 lives, the loss of family members, the loss of our safe place.

Dr Margaret Agee, senior lecturer in the University of Auckland’s counselling programme, says the shock of the Christchurch terrorist attack rippled out across the country and affected virtually all of us.

The grief that followed will continue for some time, she says.

"Grief is not a matter of conforming to a particular set of stages, and closure should never enter our vocabulary," she told 1 NEWS.

"It’s about trying to find meaning again. It’s trying to make order out of chaos."

In the days following the attack, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was praised by many for serving as the face of the nation's grief, displaying a balance of compassion, caring, sadness and strength.

Fifty people were killed in the terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch on March 15 2019 Source: 1 NEWS

Dr Agee says her actions have given validation to our emotions, even if we knew nobody who was in the Linwood or Al Noor mosques.

Source: 1 NEWS

"Her leadership has meant that as a nation we have grieved together, and we’ve supported each other. And so, people have had some of their needs met in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. By being able to come together. Being able to visibly express their distress and their caring."

Tomorrow New Zealanders will gather in Christchurch’s Hagley Park for a national remembrance for those who lost their lives in the tragic events on March 15.

Dr Agee says we shouldn’t expect the event to be a capstone on our emotions.

"Unfortunately, our society tends to set up unhelpful grieving rules - unspoken but socially expected ways that people will grieve," she said. "And if people don’t conform to those rules then sometimes, unfortunately, they can be terribly hurt by the judgment that they encounter.

"I think we need to support everybody at the moment and validate every sense of loss and grief. And we need to listen, we need to listen carefully and provide spaces where people can share what this means for them and what’s coming up for them in their lives as a result of this tragedy."

Mourners hug after paying their respects to the victims near the Masjid Al Noor mosque on Deans Ave in Christchurch. Source: 1 NEWS

We can help those we care about by continuing to check in with them and asking sincerely, "How are you?" she added.

"There can be a stigma still around seeking help or seeking counselling. And people often go on struggling for far longer than they need to. But it’s a matter of saying, 'It’s OK to be distressed, it's OK to seek help', and then helping peoplpe who aren't sure where to go.

Source: TVNZ

"Loss and grief is a process that takes time. It’s a process in which we learn to live with the loss - but we learn to live in positive ways again. And so it oftentimes offers the possibility of growth, tremendous and important personal growth and collective growth. And so, pain as well as gain can come out of trauma – no matter how devastating it might seem at the time."

- By Jane Horrell