Chilean Miners and Their Families Need Time to Grieve, Regroup

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chilean miners picture

Miner Franklin Lobo, right, embraces his daughter Carolina after he was rescued on Oct. 13.Credit: Gabriel Ortega/Chilean government/AP

The families of 33 Chilean miners dramatically rescued yesterday from an underground bunker as the world watched are, of course, filled with jubilation at the return of their husbands, fathers, sons, brothers and uncles.

But, says our expert, they will also need time to grieve.

Susan Stiffelman, ParentDish's Advice Mama, author and family therapist, compares the men to soldiers returning from war. Ever since the 125-year-old San Jose Mine collapsed on Aug. 5, they and their loved ones have been caught somewhere between extreme hope and extreme fear, as the miners waited for 69 days to be rescued from an underground refuge with limited food and water.

On Oct. 13, each of the 33 men was carried out of the mine in an escape capsule as the world -- and their loved ones -- watched, transfixed, for nearly 23 hours.

"People have been holding their breath," Stiffelman tells ParentDish. "The initial joy and elation will eventually have to give way to the outpouring of grief and anger that has been pent up and held in for all this time."

The whole range of emotions these 33 men and their families have experienced since the mine collapsed can be likened to a "really long holding of the breath," she adds.

"Even right up until the point of being fairly confident that the rescue would be successful, there has been this intense mix of tremendous hope and absolute uncertainty, and at some point there will have to be an outpouring (of emotion) or a letting loose," Stiffelman says.

It will be especially important for the children of the miners to express their emotions, because, as Stiffelman says, it's a given that they have suffered some emotional trauma. Children of soldiers can have a similar reaction to a parent returning home from an overseas tour of duty, or kids of those coping with a life-threatening illness.

While the outcome is positive, the experience of dealing with it still leaves them with residual grief, fear and anger that needs to come out, one way or another, Stiffelman says. She adds that there is the additional adjustment of dealing with more than one parent again after an extended amount of time.

"When a father or mother comes back, and the other parent has been the primary caregiver, there is an element of having to reassert authority, getting that balance between two parents again," she says.

But, perhaps most pressing, is the fact that these men are now suddenly in the world spotlight. Honors, all-expenses-paid luxury vacations and even jobs offers have been pouring in following the rescue. While the fame and fortune may be enticing, it's imperative that these families have the chance to reunite in peace and quiet right now.

"These people are going to be bombarded with gifts, courted and seduced by access to money, fame and fortune," Stiffelman points out. "It will be interesting to see how that plays out. It's one thing to be part of the mainstream world and (to have something like this happen), but it's another thing to be a miner in a small Chilean village and, suddenly, Oprah wants you to be on her show."

Being plunged into fame could be tremendously stressful for these families.

"It can have an adverse effect on the person himself, but also on siblings, spouses and children, who feel they have to compete for that person's time," Stiffelman says. "Children, in particular, don't want to be competing for their fathers' time, especially with someone like Larry King."

However, there is certainly cause for celebration, she adds, and reminds us that most people who survive a crisis carry few negative after-effects, and often experience a rebirth of sorts.

"Most people don't succumb to violent post-traumatic stress," Stiffelman says. "Most survivors do quite well. They have a period of time when they have to adjust and emote, but most people find a new lease on life."

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