By Carl Manning
American Red Cross
When a Duck Boat capsized on Table Rock Lake at Branson, Mo., 17 people on board perished. Sadness filled the air and throughout the Ozarks tourist destination and flags flew at half-staff.
In time, the flags again will fly at full staff and in time those grieving will come to terms with what happened. Helping in between have been Red Cross volunteers offering comfort, caring and support.
This disaster differed from ones like tornadoes where the Red Cross provided various services such as food, lodging and clean-up assistance. In this case, the focus was on the survivors and the families of those who died along with those in the community who came to help like first responders.
“The community is overwhelmed with the crisis and our focus is to come in and give them a hand up so they can move forward with the appropriate support,” said Red Cross volunteer Carol Miller, a registered nurse and assistant director of operations overseeing the support teams going out to the community.
Each Red Cross team of volunteers can include a disaster counselor (mental health), spiritual care, health services or caseworker depending on the need. More often than not, a mental health or spiritual care volunteers will team up with either a Red Cross nurse or disaster counselor and sometimes a caseworker.
The idea is the provide immediate help and then get people linked to local and area resources that can continue working with them on their long term needs as they move forward. What the volunteers do depend on the needs.
For instance, Red Cross team members were at the community memorial service at the College of the Ozarks three days after the tragedy to provide support. They also have been meeting with survivors and making condolence visits to families of the victims.
While some might see mixing science and spirituality as a little unusual, Carol sees it as the normal way of doing things.
“We look at the body, the mind and the spirit and it’s intertwined in the same person and we are sensitive to all that,” said Carol, who came from Rhinelander, Wisconsin to help out. “Our goal is to find out where they are right now and what we can do to help with their immediate needs.”
For Larry Martens, a mental health counselor from Marshall, Arkansas, working with spiritual care makes good sense.
“It’s a good partnership. We’re dealing with the inner self, to help them to get to their inner self,” Larry said. “Sometimes they are so deep in grief they can’t see tomorrow. They can’t see beyond their loss.”
Floyd Ferguson is a St. Joseph, Missouri Fire Department chaplain and one of the spiritual care volunteers. If people want to pray, Floyd said he will help them with that, but mostly he and the other spiritual care volunteers are there to be available.
“It’s the ministry of presence,” he said. “If there’s a need, we’ll do it.”
Carol said that it’s not a one size fits all approach because what one person needs may not work for another. The approach is low key and non-threatening, often starting with a simple question of “How are you doing?”
“We want to give them a chance tell their story and let them talk about it. Telling their story often helps them work through their grief,” she said. “We want to know what’s going on inside their head, what they are feeling and where they get their strength.”