Wednesday, September 11, 2013

It's OK to Forget

I made the mistake of going on Facebook today. Someone had tagged me in a post and I wanted to see the photo and it was just that sort of thing that brings you automatically to check the news feed. "Never Forget" said my cousin's post and I immediately had to shut it off. Every anniversary it's the same thing: radio silence. And TV and social media silence too. You see, I don't want to remember. Remembering triggers the nightmares and starts me crying . For some in grief, remembering is bad. Memorials and monuments and ceremonies do not help - they serve as triggers. 

I should have known better. It's usually me who counsels grieving families to start moving on with their lives after months pass and they are still calling. When someone dies from a sudden or violent death and their body comes to the Medical Examiner it is often my job to tell their family members what happened. Sometimes we form a bond, because I was the last person who communed with their loved one, and so they call me to talk. They'll call after the funeral when well-meaning friends and family have said inappropriate things or made upsetting remarks. They call me on the deceased's birthdays and on the anniversary of their death.

"Do you have a shrine in the house?" I ask them
"What do you mean?" they respond, perplexed.
"You know, a memorial. A photo, some keepsakes - something that makes you think of him every time you walk by?"
"Yeah - it's in the hallway" or "It's on the piano" or "No - but there's this photo in my bedroom..."
"Put it away." I say. "You are not dishonoring them by putting the photo in a drawer, but you can't be remembering every day, every time you see it. It's OK to put it away. It's also OK to turn off the radio when that song they love comes on. You have to function. It's OK to shut it off." I give them permission to forget and when they stop calling I know they've taken my advice.

There is ample research supporting the notion that repressive coping mechanisms can prevent post-traumatic stress (see links below), but I learned this lesson not from reading books or journals, but from my own experiences after my father died - and then again after 9/11. When my father died, I ignored everyone who said to shut off music, cover the mirrors and sit shiva (stay indoors and do no work). The more I worked and listened to the music I loved, the better I felt. Getting back to normal was the best thing I could have done. I turned in my index card report to Ms. Liebman on time and got an A. I listened to Howard Jones' "Things can only get better." And after 9/11 I also got to work. While others felt helpless, I had a job to do, and no time to ruminate or grieve. We kept the television off because my then 2-year old son loved airplanes and could not be allowed to even glimpse the events that unfolded repeatedly on the tube. Yes, it was repression, and I didn't talk about it for a long time. Writing the 9/11 chapter in "Working Stiff" last year was probably the hardest thing for me and TJ to do, but it was over a decade behind us and we focus in the book on how we coped, which was therapeutic.

So for my friends, I am sorry if I don't respond to your posts today, or "like" your photos on Facebook for the next few days. And for those of you at the New York City OCME who were with me on 9/11, we will forever share a bond that nobody but us understands. Thank you for helping me get through it. That I will never forget.

Interesting Links on PTSD:

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Forensic Science Foundation Student Travel Grant

The Forensic Sciences Foundation (FSF) is pleased to offer Travel Grants for students to assist with travel expenses in attending the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) Annual Meeting in Seattle, WA. The FSF Board of Trustees has allocated $7,500, not to exceed $1,500 per student, including complimentary meeting registration. This is a wonderful opportunity, and members are encouraged to promote it.

Travel Grant Eligibility Requirements:

1.    The applicant must either be an AAFS member/affiliate or an AAFS applicant for membership.

2.    The applicant must have submitted an abstract either as a presenter or co-author for the annual meeting he/she will be attending.

3.    The applicant must be a fourth year undergraduate or a graduate student at an accredited four-year college, university, or professional school whose accreditation is acceptable to the FSF Board of Trustees.

4.    The applicant must have a letter of recommendation from his/her advisor or professor.

5.    The applicant must submit a 400-600 word essay explaining how attendance at an AAFS meeting will impact his/her career decision.

6.    The applicant must submit a curriculum vitae to include specifics regarding their involvement in forensic science.


All submissions must be completed and received by October 15. The deadline is firm with no extensions.  Incomplete submissions will not be reviewed.  Please submit the aforementioned Student Travel Grant Requirements electronically to Kimberly Wrasse, or by mail to: Kimberly Wrasse, FSF, 410 North 21st Street, Colorado Springs, CO 80904.

Kimberly Wrasse
Executive Assistant
Continuing Education Coordinator
American Academy of Forensic Sciences
410 North 21st Street
Colorado Springs, CO 80904
719.636.1100, x115
719.636.1993 fax