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A Family Struggles to Maintain its Sanity
2017-07-09 22:39:06
Michael Fox

According to Wikipedia:

The Grenfell Tower fire started on 14 June 2017 at the 24-storey, 220-foot high, Grenfell Tower block of public housing flats in North Kensington, west London.It caused at least 80 deaths and over 70 injuries. Wikipedia

Date: June 14, 2017

Result: Public inquiry on terms of reference to be fixed.

Location: North Kensington, United Kingdom

Construction started: 1972

Owner: Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council

Height: 67.30 metres (220 ft 10 in)

Floor count: 24

Photo by: Natalie_Oxford via Wikimedia commons

He talks of a ritual he enjoyed; staring down at the neighborhood he loved being part of so much from his kitchen window.  The 49 year old father said, "It's like a dream that I didn't wake up [from] yet."That doesn’t tell the whole story from West London’s North Kensington neighborhood.  The tower still stands there even slightly leaning a bit or wilted may be a better word.  Smoke painted exterior busted windows and a sad reminder to many of a horrible day especially Miguel Alves.  "It was my palace. ...I was happy there," he said as he stared up at the window of his once happy home he shared with his cherished family of four for 19 years.

While he says he feels fortunate to get out of the towering inferno unharmed with his entire family, life for them is now a blurry haze of just getting through the day.  The fire, which started on June 14 in a refrigerator on the fourth floor, has claimed at least 80 lives, according to the UK's Metropolitan Police.  Aves said, "A lot of people, they didn't have my luck to come out in time, and I feel for them.”


On the evening of June 14, Alves and his wife were out much later than usual with visiting family members.  They had a late dinner and arrived back to Grenfell around 1 a.m., which is about the time the blaze started.  They happened to rid the elevator with someone who was headed to the fourth floor and when those doors opened smoke was fuming through the hallways.  Alves quickly sent his wife back to the car to retrieve his cell phone.  He then walked up to their 13th-floor apartment where his children were in bed and he rapidly shuttled them outside of the building just in case things got worse.

Alves says "It's difficult to cope."

Despite the pain, Alves comes back every day, he admits, on autopilot mostly, having done so every day for the past 19 years. "It's automatic.The first thing I do is come around here, It's still my home."


The Alves family now resides in 2 rooms of a local hotel where they and 10 other families distorted from the blazed are being house until local official figure out what to do with them.Alves explains how his family yearns for stability as he mentions a single suitcase he stares at on the hotel room floor every day.  "We need to feel as a family, to talk to our kids, we have to ask them to come to our room or we go to their room, and that is not ideal."

Alves said, "We have lost everything, even small socks that we like the most or a pair of shoes we are missing from everyday life."  He talks about the dresser top covered with snacks and breakfast bars saying "We need to sit and have dinner together on our own, not with other people."  Explaining "It's not the same thing to have our own family dinners and talk about small things that are important for life."  He does say they have been fortunate with the community they belong to and the church where they have received help from, as most evening friends host them for dinners.

Faith and Psychology

Mrs.Alves uses her rosary beads 3 times a day now and feels it hold her together and gives her the hope needed to get through the days and weeks.

When a family is left with only the most meager belongings, there is no way to know for sure how they will deal psychologically with the sudden change in situation.  Sir Simon Wessely immediate past president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and professor of psychiatry at Kings College London says "No two people respond the same, there isn't a single answer.  "People often have strength and depths in these events,"  Alves mentions his sense of humor has maintained his sanity throughout this ordeal. 

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has led a range of research on how best to respond and offer mental support to people who have gone through extreme events, such as the 2005 London bombings.

IN times of intense crisis there is an order that a response team follow such as: checking and confirming that people are safe; aiding communication between those affected by the incident, such as by providing mobile phones; and finally, practical and emotional support, to get them home or to a safe place, to retrieve some belongings or simply to offer frequent hugs and cups of tea.

Experts also use a common sense method for what they call “psychological first-aid” which aims to help people manage the immediate stress and hopefully prevent post-traumatic stress disorder down the line.  Experts in this field say doing anymore is not necessary and often becomes more harmful than helpful.  Dr.Robert Ursano, chairman of the American Psychiatric Association's Committee on Psychiatric Dimensions of Disasters said "The vast majority of people in any such disaster do fine; that's the good news.  "The problem is, you have to intervene with so many people in order to prevent one or two cases."

Intervening too early can also be harmful Wessely said.  "If psychiatrists get involved too early, that is not just useless but counterproductive.  They do more harm than good.You're getting in the way of natural coping mechanisms."

Studies show trying to treat some events too early with formal psychiatric help increases the risk of PTSD.

Unity and Strength

"We're stronger than ever before," Alves’ son Tiago said, "The tragedy has helped us be more united."  Mr.Alves states "Before, we looked at life as whole.  Now, it's one day after the other."  While exclaiming he just wants the uncertainty surrounding his life to be over.

Thinking of the future Alves said "Now, what we want is just a new house and to carry on our lives without being anxious of the future.  It's important to put everything behind us and carry on with our lives."

Wessely warns that experts will need to check in on the family in a few months, to ensure that they are alright and coping with reality.

There is "potential risk of psychiatric disorder," he said. "Putting everything behind you is not always the best in the long term."

What this all tells us is that your psychological mindset is extremely important in times of tragedy, and can is mostly the difference between succeeding in moving past the issue at hand or drowning in the swamp of disaster and depression.

Photo by: ChiralJon via Flickr

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