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Las Vegas Tragedy: The Hidden Trauma

The mass shooting that left over fifty people dead and hundreds of others injured will leave many more direct and indirect victims. Brian Calypool survived the attack in Las Vegas. He appears to have not been physically injured. Yet the video clip of him speaking to CNN’s Chris Cuomo is a heart wrenching expression of the terrible impact of such mass trauma on the survivors, the horrible impact of such a trauma not only on those physically wounded, but on many many others who experienced this horror.The victims exposed to the horrific scene of the attack may experience traumatic stress and be haunted by images, sensations and intrusive memories of the attack for a long time. They may be haunted by survivor guilt, those terrible self-searching doubts that Brian is overwhelmed with, “did I do enough to help”, and by a shattering of our most fundamental sense of our right to be alive. “Why did I survive when others did not?”, he asks, “why do I get to go home to my daughter today when they don’t ?” Survivor guilt is the added injury inflicted upon those who witnessed others being horrifically killed or injured next to them, an added injustice that leaves innocent victims and survivors feeling morally at fault for being alive, feeling guilty, guilty not for something they have done, but simply for surviving, when so many others did not.

Brian has a lot to be proud of. Fighting off the tears he does remember trying to put himself in front of the young women who were trying to find cover from the shooter. Not too many people would be able to have done that. Yet he is in excruciating pain. This pain might last for a long time for some of the survivors, and some will carry it with them forever. For some, it will lead to a heightened sense of the preciousness of life and of their relationships with loved ones, even if this heightened appreciation will come at the cost of an anxious and very real sense of the precariousness of every good moment. For some, this experience will disrupt and interrupt the fabric of life and of relationships, despite themselves. Hugging a loved one will bring to mind unbidden flashes of memories, sights, sounds and smells of the scene of horrors they survived, but others did not.

Some people who have been miles away from the catastrophe, even those watching the images on TV from the safety of their homes, might be terribly impacted. Let us be as kind as we can be to the next person we meet tomorrow. Their pain might be invisible, yet shattering. Our kindness to the stranger across from us is the only antidote we have, but it is a powerful one.

           Irit Felsen

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