Anniversaries of Trauma and Crisis: Spotlight on Mount St. Helens

Photograph by Roger Werth, Daily News

May 18th, 1980.  It was my first experience with a large-scale event that could have been much more dangerous. It was the eruption of Mount St. Helen’s.

It was a Sunday morning, and my family was attending a church meeting. It quickly got darker inside the building, and you could hear the whispers, “What’s going on? Is this the end of the world? Thank goodness I’m in church.”

As we walked outside, we saw frequent white and gray flakes falling from the sky. As an 8-year-old at the time, I began running around with the other kids trying to catch the flakes on my tongue.  My parents hurried us into the car, and we were home within minutes. Just moments after arriving at our home, everything turned pitch black. When we opened our front door and shined a flashlight on our hands (held immediately outside our door), we couldn’t even see our hands.

We were very fortunate. Even though we received a large amount of ash that may have increased some people’s respiratory problems, and some cars were plugged up with the ash, no one in my community was seriously hurt.

But the day is etched in my mind, and it is a good reminder for how many people feel when going through a crisis or experiencing trauma. If the danger is (or even if it is perceived to be) severe, things will go dark. It is a hard time to think, and our minds become clogged from the ash of stress and fear.

For me, I was with my family and in my home. I felt safe. Even though experiencing the intense darkness was strange, I could shut the door and feel that everything was going to be okay.

If you know of someone going through a crisis, there will be times—perhaps anniversaries—for when they will need you to serve as their safe base to protect them from the dark.

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