Seventeen years have passed since 9/11, the day an unprecedented terrorist attack on this country took the lives of close to 3,000 people worldwide and plunged us into war. It was an event shared publically by the world and suffered privately by too many.

Over the years this pain and loss has been echoed by many other unspeakable events–nationally, internationally, privately and publically. Many who bravely responded on that day have suffered and lost their lives to illness associated with their response. Many motivated by the 9/11 attack have faced the reality of war. It has been a difficult road, but across nations, adults and children have found the courage to hold on, remember and go on with hope.

Anniversary Events

Anniversary events stop time. Often they trigger the same physical and emotional pain, shock, horror and memories of the traumatic day. They are evidence of the way our bodies and minds register traumatic events, leaving imprints even after twelve years.

While disturbing, the reactions you may feel today actually make sense. What they offer is an opportunity to remember, revisit, mourn and integrate an unthinkable event with a stronger self.

On this Anniversary of 9/11, can we bear witness in a way that strengthens us as we remember what we have faced and carry with us those we have loved?

Coping Suggestions:

Remember and Mourn in Your Own Way

It is important to feel entitled to remember and memorialize your loved ones in your own way. For some, public or spiritual memorials are valued as an opportunity to publicly acknowledge the special qualities and importance of the loved one. For others, there is a need to tailor the event in a way that bears witness privately. Everyone grieves in their own way and in their own time.

Draw Upon Familiar Networks of Support

We recognize that the most effective antidote to the impact of trauma is use of familiar networks of support. People benefit from being with family, community, work teams, church, even on-line groups as networks of containment and soothing in face of trauma.  From collective loss can come collective support.

Turn up the Volume on Self-Care

Given the déjà vu of mind and body triggered by anniversary events, pay special attention to physical and psychological safety. Be good to yourself with sleeping, eating, walking and exercise. Buy a great book, listen to music, remind yourself to use your stress reducing activities.

Connect and Guide Children

  • Children need support in coping with anniversary events. They need parents or loving adults to make sense of the event at different stages in their development.
  • They need to view the media with someone close who can translate and moderate the impact of the viewing.
  • Events that offer them an option suited to their age- be it writing letters to loved ones, going through picture albums, sending off balloons tied with messages or attending a family memorial event can be invaluable for them.
  • Teens particularly need the option of coming together with family and friends, as well as the option to mourn and remember on their own terms.

Regulate Your Use of the Media

Anniversary Events of 9/11 draw considerable media coverage. While the media works to respectfully remember and mark history, everyone’s sensitivity to the images of 9/11 will differ. The continual stream of media on TV, computers, cell phones etc. leaves no choice to forget or view on your own terms. Moderate your use of the media so that it serves to help integrate this emotionally important event rather than re-traumatize you or other family members.

Use Coping Flexibility

  • Give yourself the benefit of focus on the Anniversary Event if you choose, as well as permission to turn away to other aspects of life.
  • While research shows benefits to reducing post-traumatic response by “Trauma Focus,” there have also been benefits attributed to “Forward Focus” — turning away, attending to work or other goals, distracting self with other activities.
  • Recent research by Bonanno and Colleagues implies that the flexibility of moving between the two positions may be the most effective of all.

Recognize Resiliency in Self and Children

Although you may feel or notice in your children the sense of being emotionally thrown back to the pain and loss of 9/11, take stock of resiliency – use and encourage use of intelligence, spirituality, creativity, sense of humor, social connections, hobbies and pets — to support coping.

Recognize Your Entitlement to Care

The events of 9/11 and their aftermath have taken a physical and emotional toll on many. Now, twelve years later, many civilians and military suffer from chronic PTSD, depression, substance abuse, illness, chronic pain and loss of livelihood. If you are suffering, reach for medical and professional guidance to support your recovery.

Consider the Potential of Anniversary Events

We have only to look back in history to cultures where atrocities have gone unspoken and disavowed to know that our commemoration of Anniversary Events offers the freedom to bear witness and to collectively mourn massive trauma in a way that connects us and offers hope.

“Once You Choose Hope – Anything is Possible” –  Christopher Reeve




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Author: Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP