Dealing with Disaster

By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Father Dennis Hayes was the Keynote Speaker at Pastoral Care Day Last Week

Since the turn of the century and in the decade before that, the U.S. has been troubled by several catastrophes, namely the 9-11 disaster and, more recently, the devastation wrought along the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina.

Last week, the 15th Annual Central New York Pastoral Care Day, held at Crouse Hospital’s Marley Education Center, dealt with the kind of pastoral care needed for those who have endured a crisis.

The keynote speaker for the event was Father Dennis J. Hayes, a veteran chaplain who has served law -enforcement staff for 30 years. He is currently the human services director and chaplain for the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office, the chaplain of the Syracuse Police Department and the chaplain of the Public Training Institute. He is a member of the National Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Chaplains Advisory Board, is an FBI chaplain and is a member of the Critical Incident Response Team.

A series of officials greeted the attendees before Father Hayes was introduced. The program then moved on to a screening of a film documenting the response from the Village of Lockerbie in Scotland during the Pan Am Flight 103 terrorist attack.

In 1988, the airplane, which carried 270 people, was destroyed by terrorists while flying over Scotland. The film documented the overwhelming support the families of the slain Americans received from the residents of the village when they arrived to collect the remains of their loved ones. One family member of a fallen American recalled for the filmmakers how one villager acted as a pallbearer. The village also set up a special “Garden of Remembrance,” a kind of mini-cemetery in which certain victims of the terrorist attack could be interred.

“The people of Lockerbie took us under their wing in the wake of unspeakable horror,” one family member recalled. After the film, Father Hayes was introduced as the keynote speaker. Speaking on the theme “Healing Wisdom in Times of Crisis,” Father Hayes said, “I’d like to thank you for the invitation to share some meanderings and wanderings about the ‘Kingdom.’”

Father Hayes noted that he had spent the past 30 years working with law enforcement officers, whom he described as the “the barbwire between the sheep and the wolves.” “I help put the pieces back together after what we call ‘incidents,’” Father Hayes said.

A handout distributed to those in attendance featured a variation on the children’s story “Humpty Dumpty.” The variation stressed the theme of Father Hayes’ presentation. Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men

Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again…or could they?

The first instance in which he was called upon to deal with a mass crisis occurred in 1992 when he touched down in Florida to help in the wake of Hurricane Andrew.

“Their reality changed for them [the residents of South Florida] and I must say it changed for me,” Father Hayes said of the experience. He then cycled through many of the crises he has been around or involved in, including the deaths of police officers, Hurricane Andrew and the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center. Father Hayes stressed perception in how one relates to a crisis. For instance, one can look at the horror of the Sept. 11 events and become bogged down in it, or one can choose to emphasize the evident heroism of the New York Police and Fire Departments. “It is very much how we see this ‘Kingdom.’ It is, very much, what our perspective is…from the internal perspective, the eyes of the soul and how we view this world and how we, as believers see our making a difference,” the priest said. “We use the term outrageous as perhaps despicable or offensive. Whereas outrageous can mean filled with the sense of the possibility of God.”

Father Hayes detailed that different individuals approach crises in wildly different manners. “I’ve had the privilege of seeing some very wonderful and some very horrifying events,” he said. I’ve seen remarkable displays of human courage and resiliency. The trial which destroys one person uplifts another.” The second phase of Father Hayes’ talk was a power-point presentation, which was broken down into several topics. The first covered traumatic events and their characteristics, the breakdown of a critical incident and the symptoms of those who have suffered through it and some of the rules of thumb for those involved in crisis intervention. One of the basic rules of crisis intervention is to discourage excessive dependence, according to Father Hayes. The priest noted that he believes the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina will, in fact, encourage dependence on others.

In general, Father Hayes noted, individuals will eventually emerge from a crisis situation, but in some cases it can take years. Some veterans of the Iraq War, for instance, do not experience trauma for years and the damage may lay dormant for some time. Father Hayes also detailed some of the physical and emotional results of disaster as well as the factors involved in post-traumatic stress disorder.

Father Hayes spent a considerable amount of time discussing the manner in which a caregiver reacts to a disaster or crisis situation. The priest relayed that nearly 15 years later the smell of seaweed and jet fuel still triggers memories of the TWA Flight 103 disaster.

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