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A Common Response to Loss

Natural disasters such as the one that struck in East Iceland recently have brought a variety of consequences. In the wake of events of this magnitude, people will often experience varying forms of loss. When talking about loss, people will often associate it with the loss of a loved one, which is certainly a painful and highly emotional process of grief. Of course, what people feel, first and foremost, is a feeling of joy and gratitude, when they discover that no one was injuried or killed in the natural disaster that the people in East Iceland suffered. Nonetheless, loss can come in many forms other than losing a loved one. People will go through many things in their lives and will suffer many kinds of loss, such as the loss of employment, marriage or the loss of health. However, such as in the case of the mud flow disaster, people may experience a loss of housing and personal belongings in addition to the loss of culturally-valuable structures and the destructive effect it has had on the town’s appearance. This will also shake the foundations of stability and security that people require. Such a sudden loss will often provoke a grief response and it should be borne in mind that such a process varies between individuals regardless of the scope of a individual loss. There are many factors to consider and therefore it is not possible to compare people’s experience of loss like-to-like. The grief that individuals experience after a loss often results in a myriad of emotions that may be confusing and uncomfortable to the individual, while being commonplace and normal in the wake of a trauma like this. Some of these responses can take the form of feelings of loneliness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, anger, fear or irritability; as well as guilt, for example, for not having suffered the same degree of loss as others and thereby not being entitled to those feelings as no one died or other people have it worse.

When you have suffered a loss and you experience any of the above feelings, it is vital to realize that these are normal responses to grief and it takes time to go work through those feelings. Each person is unique and each person’s experience is therefore different. It is important to be patient and tolerant with yourself as well as others during this time, and some days will inevitably be better than others.

Sometimes people's experiences of loss have been divided into four stages. It can be good to keep this as a reference, although this does not apply to everyone and each person’s process of grief may be different. During the first stage, people are coming to terms with and acknowledging what has happened; in the second stage, people are dealing with the emotions that arrive with that realization, such as anxiety, anger, disappointment and sadness. During the third stage people deal with practical tasks and organizational issues, giving attention to financial matters and seeking out help and information as needed. During the fourth stage, people look to the future and try to discern their situation and adapt to changed circumstances.

The community as a whole is facing change in the wake of the mud flow disaster. A lot of restoration work lies ahead, the power of cooperation and creativity will no doubt push those projects far. Reconstruction takes time and all residents have a role to play, such as by being present for each other, expressing their views and ideas and participating in the work ahead.

When grappling with challenging times a reliable coping strategy, which may often be difficult to adhere to but has proven beneficial, involves ensuring that we get quality and regular nutrition, good sleep, rest and relaxation, exercise and by sharing our thoughts and feelings with those we trust. It is also good to be aware of the support measures that are available if one wishes to seek further help. Information about those support measures can be obtained at the Service Center.


Elfa Dögg S. Leifsdóttir, Red Cross psychologist, team leader of healthcare projects, elfal@redcross.is

Síðast uppfært 21. janúar 2021
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