Tragedy close to home
We were all shaken today. Shaken by the sound of many emergency vehicles. Shaken by the horrendous traffic and police helicopters overhead. I contacted family and friends, plus the mums of the two extra children in my charge, just to let them know we were ok, even before I knew what happened. You see, it was in the air: whatever happened was big, and it was close. I didn’t try to hide it from the children, because I had no intention to create an elephant in the room. I was honest with them, sharing the knowledge of what happened as it unfolded. A train had hit a car at our local crossing.
This wasn’t a first for me, but was for the children. Before they were all born there were 2 fatalities from just such an accident in the same place, in fact I witnessed a near miss as the crossing was stuck down (as it had been frequently back then) and cars began driving through by entering and exiting the train track area through the gap on the opposite sides of the road.
I wondered if this had happened again. Family started calling to let me know what they had seen on the television news and heard on the radio. Charlie was away, and glad to know we were fine, but still googling to find out what happened and letting me know. It suddenly felt extra awful that he was away.
I told the children what had happened, and tried to prevent them from looking at the picture my Charlie had phoned to direct me to. I told them honestly that someone had died. They asked if I was sure, and I said “yes” as I sheltered them from the picture. They insisted on seeing it, surrounding me, as I peered at the other mum who had joined us for dinner, helpless to stop them from seeing the picture as they grabbed my arms. They had seen it now. The mystery was over, so I sent them all back to their seats. There was no elephant in the room, but I wish I could have removed that image from their minds. Was it better that they had seen it rather than invent their own image based on my shock? I’m honestly not sure.
The thing is, if we don’t tell truths to our children when we are frightened, sad or anything like that, they will invent it based on their worst possible thoughts of what happened. That is what children do. They also play out accidents, and difficulties they have had in life. They put them into their play, so that they can work through it emotionally. Little children who have been through a fire will play fire rescue, and it is a child’s way of problem solving. Older children, like Taz, now 10, will problem solve in a much more language and science way. That’s exactly what Taz and his friends of the same age did. They tried to think of ways to prevent such an accident from happening again. As this unfolded before my eyes, they impressed me with their dedicated engineering ideas. This is how children deal with this sort of thing. An adult who has been through trauma responds differently, needing to describe it over and over again until they process it emotionally. That’s partially what the process children go through is, only its with play, or with discussion. They might even theorise how it happened, how the car broke up, or what stopped the train: the brakes or the car.
As I sit here writing this, I have just read a letter from the school, acknowledging the scope of the accident and its possible affects on the students. They spoke of allowing children to emotionally process what happened: both those who witnessed the accident and those who knew about it. We still don’t know who the people are, if they are local, or if we knew them.
With all of this we can be sure of one thing: no matter what we think we should protect our children from, they can imagine something far worse than the truth. Today was a perfect example, because as we headed home and away from the emergency vehicles and traffic jam with the Police Helicopters seemingly right overhead, I figured that either the big crane building a multi-storey building had fallen over, or there had been a crossing accident. Meanwhile, Taz had another theory: “mum! I think it’s world war 3!” And he was completely serious!
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