During my recent trip to Japan, I participated in and attended three different university conferences on mental health and disasters. It was slightly intimidating. I had joked with a fellow Tribute Center docent that I would be lucky if I made it out of the conference without being “locked up”. Seriously when we walked into the first conference at Fukushima Medical University The Center for Medical Sciences I thought wow, what am I doing here? The table was very formally set with the 12 members of “our” team on one side and the 12 members of the university staff on the other. It was what I imagine the Paris peace talks must have looked like. There was a presentation that explained the extent of the March 11, 2011 disaster and the immediate after effects. Then the two doctors traveling with us from Mount Sinai Hospital offered a presentation about September 11 medical health programs and findings. Both presentations were very informative.
The next day we attended a conference at the International Research Institute of Disaster Sciences at Tohuku University. Due to space and time limitations just two of us would speak at this conference. One of the doctors from Mount Sinai would explain the work the Japan Society has done and then the concept of “9/11 meets 3/11”. My fellow docent and I would briefly tell our personal September 11 stories.
One of the doctors asked me “what did I think the two disasters had in common and how were they different.” I responded “They were different because 9/11 was an act of terrorism and 3/11 was an act of nature. And I feel they are similar because people died. And loss is loss whether it is your family member or your home. Loss is universal just has hope is universal. I have often said “I have had a personal loss in the midst of a national tragedy.” I loss my husband but America as a nation was changed. In Japan there are people who have lost their family members so their loss in personal, but as a nation you have loss something as well. My heart is sad for Japan.” There was one more conference to attend at the same university and all of us were able to share at that venue. We would also visit mental health clinics and two relocation centers.
Often on my tours I mention “I have had a personal loss in the midst of a national tragedy and there is no handbook to tell you how to do that”. Well, it seems there are MD’s and PhD’s in Japan and the USA who are trying to write that handbook. I am glad for that but I also hope it is a handbook no one will ever need.