Today, January 15, marks the first anniversary of the amazing landing made by US Airways Flight 1549 onto and into the Hudson River. It’s hard to believe that an entire year has passed since those stunning 3 minutes. Who will ever forget the image of 155 people standing on the wings of their plane, waiting to be rescued in the icy Hudson? 

More than half the survivors have spent a few days together in New York. Today they’ll return to the crash site by boat, then get a chance to personally thank the captain, crew, rescuers and others who helped them through the ordeal, at a special dinner.

According to a story published earlier this week in The New York Times, “For a lot of us, it’s closure,” said Tracey Allen-Wolsko, a passenger who has been involved in organizing the get-together. 

Closure. Yes, it’s important to wrap up loose ends if you are to survive the after-effects of survival, whether you have lived through an act of war, a violent crime, years of child abuse, a horrific accident or even a catastrophic hurricane or earthquake. 

You need to go back to the scene, safely. Have your fears acknowledged and understood. Get your questions answered. Hear what others remember about the event. Then, face down the demon and see that you can walk away from it, unharmed. 

Without closure, PTSD will keep many from moving on with their lives, even if they think they are fine. 

A few years ago, I heard a story on public radio about several people who survived a brutal mid-day bank robbery. Robbers randomly assassinated customers and employees, then locked the survivors in the vault on their way out.

Years later, those who survived still talked about what it was like to stand in a bank line one second and come face to face with death, the next. By the time they realized what was happening, the horror was over. 

Although many years had passed, disbelief, anger and survivor-guilt remained. You could hear it in their voices. PTSD therapy and emotional support helped some, but not others. One woman still had trouble sleeping.  A man couldn’t seem to follow through on projects, or build close relationships. 

While I listened to this story, something odd happened. An emotional dam burst inside me. Sobs welled up from I-don’t-know-where.  At first, I thought I was just mourning for those unfortunate people caught in a bank robbery. Then I realized I was mourning for myself for I, too, had my own near misses while plowing through life's minefields, and had never dealt with them properly. 

Why not? I'm not entirely sure, but I do know that most people – even family – don’t like to listen to other people’s problems. Also, if they see you’re sitting before them and appear to be fine, they doubt you were ever in any real danger. If you were, there’s always the possibility you brought it on yourself, right?

Funny, because (most of the time) we don’t blame the passengers when a plane falls out of the sky. But, if a person is raped, robbed or beaten by a spouse, we might. 

We fully expect soldiers to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, but what about people who have walked in on a robbery, or were raped by a trusted friend or family member, or beaten by a partner in a fit of rage? Or those who faced danger on the job? Maybe they watched a man shot and killed through the lens of their own camera, and wondered if the next bullet had their name on it. Or maybe, they saw their world swallowed up by an earthquake, or watched a loved one wash away in a flood.

Dear readers, I know at least one of us found herself at the butt-end of a gun on her own doorstep. Another made a crash landing in a small plane, and one was hit broadside by another aircraft in a runway accident.

Certainly, anyone who’s seen battle deserves all the help and support they can get. I’m glad we hang yellow ribbons, erect billboards thanking veterans for their service, and salute them in annual parades. Public displays of appreciation can go a long way to heal the wounds of trauma. 

But we don’t give the same support to victims of street crime, domestic crime, natural disasters and run-of-the-mill accidents, even though you can get just as dead.

I believe every victim needs to know someone realizes how close they came to death and is glad they made it. They need to know they had a right to be scared, and fully deserved their second chance at life.  

If we can’t throw that person a parade, erect a billboard or celebrate their survival with a dinner, at least we can offer an ear, a hand or a hug.  Or, use the Flight 1549 celebration to say “thank goodness” for all survivors.  

So, here’s to you, Sully, the crew, the survivors and the rescuers. And, here’s to everyone who’s ever wondered if they were going to breathe another breath, and then did. 



01/16/2010 11:57

I think you have made a very important point in your wise analysis of a problem that happens to an unlucky few. It's true that just because someone looks okay, is smiling and seemingly getting on with their life it doesn't mean that they are just fine.

Some people bury their hurts so deep in an effort to forget them that it takes a traumatic event to unearth the pain. This obviously happened to you. I'm glad you were able to cry at last. I hope you are now okay with your close encounters with death.


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