Here is your Wednesday Wisdom series from the Family Assistance Foundation, reminding you that a fully-integrated approach for assisting survivors of traumatic loss involves a balance of head and heart. Wednesday Wisdom is written and copyrighted by Carolyn V. Coarsey, Ph.D., and distributed by the Family Assistance Education & Research Foundation Inc., www.fafonline.org. Reprint is available with written permission from the Foundation.
Turning Tragedy into a Career of Helping Others
I realized that my journey after 9/11 was to support others in traumatic circumstances and my life journey eventually took me to qualify as a Psychotherapist, Reiki Master and Life Coach.
-Elizabeth Turner, Family Survivor, September 11, 2001
Simon Turner died in the attacks on New York City, September 11, 2001. A citizen of the United Kingdom (UK), Simon was attending a business meeting in the Windows of the World restaurant in the World Trade Center. Through the Foundation’s work with the London Metropolitan Police Family Liaison Officer (FLO) program, we were introduced to his widow Elizabeth, as a potential speaker for our Care and Special Assistance Team training programs.
Since that time Elizabeth has spoken at many of our meetings in the UK, Europe and US. She traveled to Miami, FL and presented at the International Humanitarian Assistance Symposium (IHAS) in 2012. Elizabeth also appears inFoundation videos used for Human Services Response™ Training. Elizabeth most recently presented at the Foundation’s 2019 UK and Europe Member-Partner meeting in London.
At the time that Simon died, Elizabeth was working in Human Resources for a television station in London. As her responses to the questions in this article reveal, Elizabeth has used her own grief experience to help others who are faced with traumatic loss and other types of life altering circumstances.
1. CVC: When you learned that Simon was involved in the tragic events of 9/11, how did you see it from a spiritual perspective?
ET:The spiritual perspective was very important for me as it felt like it was the first time in my life that I had had a dialogue with myself about my spiritual place in the world. When 9/11 happened, it made no sense that Simon and I had been involved in it. Why us? We didn’t even live in New York City and Simon didn’t even work in the World Trade Center! I explored so many avenues to try and answer my questions. I talked to Vicars, read books and looked at the philosophy of many religions. The conclusion and belief that I came to which has no ‘name’ is that we are all born with a purpose in life and the Universe comes together to allow us to fulfill our destiny. It is unique to us. I realized that my journey after 9/11 was to support others in traumatic circumstances and after working through my own personal grief journey I qualified as a Psychotherapist,Life Coach, and Reiki Master in order to support people professionally, too.
2. CVC: Where did you get the best emotional support in the first few weeks?
ET:My siblings physically supported me 24/7 until my son was born. However, I was beginning to realize that the emotional support was something I had to do for myself.
CVC: How about later?
ET:The Family Liaison Officer (FLO) allocated to me by the Metropolitan Police in London; close friends and also the kindness of strangers.
3A. CVC: What actions did you take to finish the business of the accident?
ET: As this was 9/11 it was bigger than anything I could control. Simon’s friend and his brother went to NYC on my behalf to search for him, but other than that it was staying connected to the clearing of Ground Zero. A museum was eventually created at the site of the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan. The site is a focus of learning but it is also reflective and peaceful, for the families. Each person lost has their name engraved around the edge of the reflecting pools.
3B. CVC: What actions did you take to regain control over your life?
ET:I realised through my spiritual explorations that I couldn’t control what had happened to me, but I could control how I chose to react to the circumstances. I began making decisions that would allow me to have control over my private life, what was published, who I saw and spoke to and how I planned my own life going forward.
3C. CVC: Did you receive any counseling?
ET:I started having reiki and life coaching in the early stages and then I had therapy later on. They were all relevant and important at the different stages I found myself at.I can see with hindsight that the Reiki helped me to process emotions that I couldn’t articulate, yet later the therapy helped me to understand what had happened to me and the Life Coaching helped me to rebuild a new normal.
4. CVC: Did you need to forgive anyone? Who?
ET:I needed to forgive the terrorists and I did this again from a spiritual position. I took the view that we have all created this experience that we have on Earth and how we all live together. We are all responsible for how we find the world and therefore I can choose to take a different path by putting love and care and connection back into the world to try to redress the balance.
5. CVC: What have you done to create from this experience?
ET:I retrained as a Reiki Master, a Life Coach and a Psychotherapist. I work every day with clients dealing with their own emotional traumas and I help them understand how to take back control in their lives and create a path forward that is authentic to them.
6. CVC: Have you integrated the experience into your life? What did you leave behind, and what do you carry with you?
ET:I believe that emotional trauma has the potential to leave an infected wound or a healed scar. I feel that with all the therapeutic work I have done and my professional training and my subsequent working practice I can see that I had to absorb Simon’s death in 9/11 and to accept its effect on me and to recognise that I was changed because of it. I had to renegotiate my place in the world and I had to be satisfied that my footprint in this life reflected the enormity of that event. I had to balance the scales by breaking the cycle in the way I live my life personally and professionally. I am grateful every day for life, love, family, friends and work with purpose and meaning.
7. CVC: How do you remain connected to Simon?
ET:I stay connected to Simon as a mother to our son. That has been an important part to me in providing an anchored and stable upbringing for our son despite the backdrop. And on 9/11 I have a quiet day at home as a family and I remind myself of the footprints I have placed and can continue to place in my life.
The power of awareness changes our well-being.
-Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, American Psychiatrist, Author, and Teacher of Mindfulness
I realised through my spiritual explorations that I couldn’t control what had happened to me, but I could control how I chose to react to the circumstances.
Elizabeth’s grief was complicated by the fact that Simon died on foreign soil, in a terrorist event where his remains were never recovered. The press presented another major challenge for Elizabeth as she was the only pregnant British widow. This increased the press members’ intrusiveness, as obtaining pictures of her stomach had great appeal for unique story lines. Elizabeth described how important her family, friends, and the FLO were to her in the beginning as she fought to regain control over her life. She also gives great credit to complete strangers who were able to assist with practical matters that helped in her recovery.
At the Foundation’s 2012 International Humanitarian Assistance Symposium in Miami, FL, Elizabeth delighted the attendees by bringing her son William so we could meet him in person. A handsome and personable young man, there is no doubt that her goal ofproviding an anchored and stable upbringing for our son despite the backdropis being accomplished.
I had to renegotiate my place in the world, and I had to be satisfied that my footprint in this life reflected the enormity of that event. -Elizabeth Turner
Finding meaning in life’s losses and integrating trauma the way Elizabeth has done in itself helps others as she serves as a living example of the potential we all have for transcending loss and going on to live healthy and meaningful lives. For anyone who chooses her as a counselor or coach, there is the added bonus of being helped by someone who has overcome enormous challenges and as a popular expression goes, “has walked the talk”. She details more of her experiences in her heart-warming book, The Blue Skies of Autumn,
a favorite of mine and many team members who have read it.
Elizabeth is also serving on the Survivor Advisory Board of the Foundation’s new International Family Assistance Education and Research Institute (FAERI), currently being co-developed with Louisiana State University. Since one of the goals of the new Institute is to help establish best practices for humanitarian assistance for workplace trauma throughout the world, having Elizabeth as a Board member is a tremendous addition to the Foundation’s efforts.