|The Bridge - Page 2|
Saturday morning came, and with it a sense of anticipation and purpose. I went down to the college where the families were being cared for. When I got there, I was surprised—and a bit disappointed—at how many volunteers were there already. We received little direction, except for the information that the families had been together Thursday and Friday, offering whatever support they could to each other. We were told to greet them when they came in, sit down with them if they so requested, and see how they were doing.
A few exhausted, numb-looking families trickled in that morning, but they gave us clear signals to back off. They avoided eye contact, kept their heads down, and only asked for directions to the new meeting room, to join the other families. For most of the morning, the mental health volunteers outnumbered the family members.
At 3 o'clock, the head police officer running the bridge-response operation came in and made an announcement to the families. "Okay, here's the deal," he began. "In ten minutes, we're boarding two buses, and we're taking you to the site of the bridge." There was a little gasp and a palpable sense of relief in the room. Tears came to many eyes. The families had been asking since the morning after the collapse to go to the site, but too many logistical problems had intervened: the recovery operation that was still under way; the teeming press; the closure of the smaller bridge running parallel to the fallen bridge, leaving no way to get close without virtually going down into the mess in the river. "Right now, the place is being cleared. There's no press there. We're going to open the 10th Avenue Bridge for you folks, and nobody else will be allowed on it."
"We probably are only going to have ten minutes at the bridge before the press figures it out. Nobody outside of this room knows that we're going to be there. The bus drivers sitting in the buses out front have no idea where they're going to be driving us. We want this to be as private as possible. This is for you." Then he said, "Let's go."
Ten minutes later, the buses pulled up to the center of the small bridge, overlooking the fallen bridge. The family members made their way to the edge of the bridge. They looked down onto the wreckage below. For most of them, it must have been the most heart-wrenching experience of their lives. There was the shapeless debris, the burned-out semi, the empty school bus, the abandoned cars, the crushed cars, the half-submerged cars, and tons and tons of broken concrete and twisted metal. And somewhere, down there in the middle of all that, were the people they loved.
I walked along, trying to look as if I knew what I was doing and that it was something helpful. There were people holding hands and softly crying, people praying with the chaplains, people talking quietly. All were handling what was happening as well as they could. I didn't see any need to "help" anybody. In fact, I realized that the best help I could give was by staying out of the way. So I finally stopped trying to figure out what to do and let what I was seeing and feeling register inside me. Tears came to my eyes, and I just started to pray. I prayed for the dead, for the survivors, for the family members. And in the midst of that prayer, something inside of me opened and relaxed. For the first time since I'd learned of the disaster, I felt at peace.
Patrick Dougherty, M.A., has been in private practice for more than 30 years. For the last 15 years, he's been studying Eastern practices and integrating them into his work with clients. He's been teaching Qigong for more than 10 years, and is the author of Qigong in Psychotherapy: You Can Do So Much By Doing So Little. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters to the Editor about this article may be e-mailed to email@example.com.
The following Networker U Courses on this subject or by this author are available at www.psychotherapynetworker.org:
Articles by Author
"Breathing Lessons," May/June 2006
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A-312 The Callenge of Engagement: A Moment-to-Moment Approach to Experiential Therapy CE Credits: 6 Instructor: Diane Fosha
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OL-127 The Mindful Therapist CE Credits: 3 Interviewees: Mary Wylie, Christopher Germer, Lorne Ladner, Jay LeBow, Michael Ventura