Dr Keith Gaynor is Senior Clinical Psychologist at Saint John of God Hospital and Assistant Professor in the School of Psychology at UCD. He joined the Ryan Tubridy Show on RTÉ Radio 1 to talk about how to cope with grief and shock, how to talk to your children about it and the importance of allowing yourself to express your feelings. (This piece includes excerpts from the conversation which have been edited for length and clarity - you can hear the discussion in full above)
"What the kids need to hear is reassurance and safety"
"This is the shock we all feel, so I think you start with yourself and go 'OK, what am I feeling?' explains Gaynor. "I might be feeling shock, fear and sadness, and all of that is going to come across in how I communicate to the kids. But what the kids need to hear is reassurance and safety, because they want to know that this isn't going to happen to them; this strange, difficult, awful thing that everyone is thinking about. They want to know it's not gonna come to their door."
"So the parents have to look after themselves a little bit and think about what they need to process this grief." Gaynor explains that what we need to do is find something that allows us to express our grief, whether it's talking to a loved one or perhaps bringing flowers to somewhere or making a donation.
Talking about experiencing "a national grief for a community tragedy", Gaynor says that something "so out of the blue and so out of their control, is very frightening for people" but that there's a lot we can do to reassure and to help children. "But I think the first step is then allowing ourselves to grieve and allowing to help ourselves rather than saying, ‘we’re fine, this is normal, nothing to see here’."
"We're part of the same community, we're part of the same country"
Historically in Ireland, Tubridy says we haven't been "wonderful" at speaking openly, grieving openly and "confronting awfulness in a meaningful way".
But, explains Gaynor, there is a way for us to do that. "When Princess Diana died you saw an outpouring of grief because that's what that nation needed at that time and it might have seemed strange to go and give flowers to somebody that you didn't know at all, but actually it allowed that nation to grieve.
"That may or may not be something that people feel comfortable with in their own situations here but it might be something that they want, it might be something that they need, and that actually we can allow that."
"Society doesn't have to put a lid on that and we can say, OK, if I need to talk about this with my husband, with my partner, with my neighbour, actually I'm allowed to do that and even though I might not know this family and their grief isn't directly my grief, it does affect me, I am affected by it. That's very normal; we’re part of the same family, we’re part of the same community, we're part of the same country and I am affected by their loss."
"Any reminder just brings them back into their own sense of loss"
Gaynor urges people to be open about their sadness rather than hiding it away because you'll find people around you are feeling the same away. Talking about parents who may have been reminded of their own grief and loss of a child in the past, Gaynor says grief is also the love you will always hold on to.
"Those people they hold all their grief and yes a couple of weeks later they have to go back to work and you have to go back to all those things, but all the grief is still there for them. Any reminder just brings them back into their own sense of loss. Of course that's going to come up for them and come up in a huge way and they probably wouldn't want it any other way.
"You're holding onto that grief because you're holding on to all that love you have for that person, and that will never go. It'll diminish a little bit, people will be able to function and they'll be able to do the things they need to do, go to the shops and go to work, but all the grief will be held for that person that they lost. And that’s OK because this is something they loved absolutely. That love doesn't disappear overtime."