Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks the Day After Nutty Putty Cave

At about midnight last night, John Jones, 26, died in a tiny crevice in Nutty Putty Cave in Utah.  He had been stuck upside down for more than 24 hours, and rescuers had been working feverishly to get him out.  At one point they did get him free, but after an equipment failure he got stuck again.  After hours and hours of talking to him and reporting that he was in good spirits, rescuers noted that he was not responding.  He left behind his wife, who is pregnant, a young daughter, his parents and six siblings.

Today is Thanksgiving.  I'm sure it feels very different for the Jones family, as well as for the rescue workers.  The obvious impulse, especially for the Jones family, must have been to cancel their Thanksgiving dinner.  How can anyone concentrate on turkey at a time like this?

As much as we all understand that impulse, I'm hoping that isn't what happened.  When a trauma occurs, it feels like nothing is normal in the entire world.  The mundane tasks of life appear to be completely irrelevant.  The world, it seems, ought to stop turning.  But the world doesn't stop turning, and acting like it has actually prolongs that feeling of unreality.  At times of trauma, people need exactly what they don't feel like giving or can't give themselves -- normalcy.

What I hope happened is that the neighbors, the church, or whomever else is in the Jones' lives reached out to them today.  No, they couldn't necessarily face making a turkey and all the trimmings, but they still need to eat.  What's more, Thanksgiving is always going to have a negative association for this family from now on.  Skipping Thanksgiving entirely this year would cement that feeling even more.  And it would be lonely.  At a time when the world seems to be coming to an end, these people need friends to reach out and tell them they're going to be OK.

The rescue workers are going through something else right now.  Not only have they experienced someone dying literally before their eyes, but someone has died while they were a hair's breadth from saving him.  Their deeply held belief that they are good at what they do and that they make a positive difference with their work is shaken.  We on the outside know they did all they can, but it still feels awful.  And so I'm guessing there were some quiet tables this Thanksgiving, as these workers tried to process what happened and weren't quite ready to join in the revelry.

The Jones family issued a very lovely and moving statement this afternoon.  They said, in part,
We would like to express our heartfelt appreciation and gratitude to the brave, dedicated, and selfless men and women – many of whom were volunteers – who we know did all they could to get John out. We are told nearly one hundred personnel – including sheriffs, firemen, paramedics, cavers, and other rescue workers – were involved with the search and rescue operation, and we are deeply thankful for the compassion and care they showed John and our family – even to the point of singing John primary songs to help get him through the night.
Even in their own darkest hour, the family gave the rescuers a little of what they need. 

No trauma is ever "good," but sometimes it teaches an important lesson.  When the world stops turning, everyone involved needs to reach out to and support each other, and hopefully we all remember that we have a reason to give thanks.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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