BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Friday's one-year anniversary of the crash of
Continental Flight 3407 will almost certainly trigger anxiety and
fear among those personally affected by the tragedy. And a
University at Buffalo expert on trauma and loss says those with a
less-immediate, but still important connection to the tragedy can
also expect a recurrence of anxiety or grief.
"The first-year anniversary after a tragedy is always
difficult," says Nancy J. Smyth, dean of UB's School of Social Work
and a national expert on trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder.
"In this situation, it's particularly difficult because certain
aspects and qualities of the tragedy make it complicated.
"Safety practices were not what they should have been," says
Smyth. "The deaths might have been prevented. Family members of the
victims may well have been stuck in feelings of anger and
helplessness. And those feelings can make the grieving process that
much harder and the anniversary date that much more painful."
But the trauma, anxiety and depression surrounding the Feb. 12
anniversary date will be felt by others who somehow made a painful
but meaningful connection to the crash, a tragedy that killed all
49 passengers and one person in the Clarence Center neighborhood
where the plane came down. According to Smyth, these people, as
well, need to prepare for what could be a reawakening of the pain
and ordeal they experienced because they found something about the
crash disturbingly relevant to their own lives.
"If they found something personal in this situation they
connected to -- maybe they strongly related to one of the victims
or they often took a flight similar to this one -- the anniversary
of the crash may make them feel less safe in the world. This is
much more likely if they have their own history of trauma, such as
childhood abuse or growing up in a violent neighborhood," Smyth
explains. "Feeling anxiety on the anniversary of this crash will
probably be puzzling to them, and it might only make sense when
they can figure out that this current tragedy is resonating with
their own past experiences."
Smyth, who has written and lectured extensively on how people
react to stress and the coping mechanisms that can make it easier
to manage this anxiety, urges both groups at risk of feeling deep
sorrow to "plan, expect that this will happen" as the anniversary
of the crash approaches.
"Don't fight it," she says. "Dedicate some time and mental space
to how you're feeling. Don't try to go through this week as if
nothing happened. Recognize it and decide what you need to do to
commemorate this event in your life.
"Death of a loved one is very personal. This could be a time to
write a letter to the person who died. People who have done this
say this can be a helpful thing to do. Or it can be a religious
service, or gathering with a group of people that have gone through
a similar experience.
"It's more a point of taking the time to ask yourself, 'What do
I need to do?' rather than a matter of something being right or
Everyone expects the families of those killed in the crash to
re-experience their sorrow and loss. But others -- whether they are
the people who saw the crash in their neighborhood, or the first
responders, or the volunteers who helped look for remains of the
victims, or people who lived through a frightening airline
experience or through other traumatic events -- these people should
also expect the one-year anniversary will probably awaken painful
feelings they thought had been resolved, according to Smyth.
"The most healing way to use this anniversary date is often to
honor the person who died in whatever way is most useful and
appropriate to that person experiencing that grief," Smyth says.
"However, if you find yourself getting anxious or depressed when
this anniversary comes, and it's not making any sense because
you're thinking, 'I didn't live through this,' it's a good time to
seek out a therapist familiar with trauma. Those therapists can
quickly help you understand how this tragedy relates to your life
and your experiences, and then work with you so that these feelings
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New
York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of
the Association of American Universities