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Trauma of a mother who has lost her children

Experts say she must be allowed to grieve — and that the process will be a long one

  • The twin sisters who died in the Fujairah house fireImage Credit: Fujairah Police
  • Bodies of Fujairah fire victims being laid to restImage Credit: Ahmed Ramzaan

Dubai: “There’s no getting over this,” says Dr Asad Sadiq, Consultant Psychiatrist at The Psychiatry and Therapy Centre in Dubai.

He was taking to Gulf News about the sole survivor of a fire in Fujairah, a mother of seven who lost all her children in the early hours of Monday in a fire. The children suffocated to death.

“Her PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and survivor’s guilt will be immense,” adds Supriya Ramalingam, a Clinical Psychologist based in India.

Scene inside the Fujairah house that caught fire. Video courtesy: Fujairah Police

We asked the experts about what the widowed mother of the Al Suraidi family can expect to go through in the next couple of days and how her support system can help her cope with the debilitating incident. They both agreed that she must be allowed to grieve — and that the process will be a long one.

1. What can she expect to go through in the long and short terms?

Dr Sadiq lists the five stages of grief as denial, anxiety, anger, depression and acceptance. “In the first two three weeks the grief and the pain is just going to be too much. There’ll be thinking about it all the time, the panic, just the disbelief that this has happened. This is what will be happening,” he explains. She may need some anxiolytic medication — for anxiety and sedation — as the trauma may not allow her any rest.

2. Family support
“First of all, she needs [to be taken care of] ... someone needs to be around and tend to her needs at all times,” says Ramalingam. She needs to feel safe again. “If she’s left alone, she will suffer more.”

Dr Sadiq calls for some basic help in the short term. “it’s going to be very busy, because of funerals and there’s lots of processes going on even culturally, which will be quite busy. But [she must make sure] to look after herself in terms of eating, making sure she’s well hydrated so on.”

3. How long will her depression last?
Dr Sadiq says grieving is a process which she’ll have to go through and you know if a few months down the line if it doesn’t settle down and she still shows the symptoms of depression then medication may help, but not initially.

Ramalingam says depression over a four-week period warrants deeper interrogation and a medical opinion. Watch out for symptoms such as “[If she neglect[s] self-care or duties and responsibilities for prolonged period of time ... i.e. almost four weeks; [has] negative ideas and thoughts, disrupted sleep patterns; insomnia or over sleeping; lack of appetite or overeating”. 

4. What can the people around her expect?
“Expect a slow recovery,” says Ramalingam “Expect her to have flashbacks, nightmares, [being] startled often with noises or even developing a phobia or hatred of fire and (in some cases) crying spells.”

“Expect abject hopelessness and ask the family members to not be impatient with her or ask her to buck up and deal with it,” she adds.

5. In the long-term
“As time goes on ... it’s important to start just doing some sort of physical exercise. Maybe going for a walk once or twice a day, for 30 minutes, just getting out of the house as well,” says Dr Sadiq, adding that talking about the event is a good thing that will help her cope.

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