When Pride and Dreams Turns to Tears

Ilan Ramon: Yet Another Tragedy for Our Children

By: Dr. Batya L. Ludman

Jerusalem-----February 5........Today we are once again a nation plunged into darkness.
After all that we have been dealing with over the past two and a half years, Ilan Ramon was our national hero. He was everything to every one of us. He was young, he fought in our wars, he pleased the secular and the religious, he was a family man and he was our sense of hope. While we have no real calm in our midst right now, we had been celebrating for 16 days our pure joy as one of our own moved beyond our tiny country and journeyed into outer space. Ilan Ramon was our first Israeli astronaut and we have all been bursting with pride.

This dream of ours, was shattered as we turned on our television on Saturday night to catch up with the latest news after our all too brief weekend. What we saw on our screen was news that was simply beyond belief. For those of us who remember all too well the moments of Challenger’s ill fated trip in January 1986, this was once again a reminder that life is very precarious, that the routine apparently must never become routine, and that even the seemingly most simple or mundane event, never less than a miracle, can turn tragic in seconds.

Since the start of the latest Intifada, more than two long years ago, most children have coped incredibly well. Nothing prepared them for all that they have been through and for many they have gone from one disaster to the next. Our world as we have known it-with our beliefs, values, morals and life assumptions, has been challenged in every way imaginable. Our lives have been forever changed, our innocence, and that of our children, lost and our morale, threatened to the very core. We are keenly aware that our safety is not guaranteed, in any place or at any time, something once never given a second thought. How do we as parents, help our children face these disasters and how, with the death of Ilan Ramon, do we once again help our children to deal with loss and tragedy?

How children cope with disaster and loss is dependent on many factors. As their parent, you are their most precious role model and how you cope will in large part determine how they will ultimately do. While we as adults often become steeped in disaster and live at the television in search of answers that may never come, children tend to cope differently. They often have moments of being upset mixed in with what looks to the adult as “acting as if nothing happened”. Their age, and how close our children felt to and identified with this space mission, will to a large degree impact on how they interpret this latest disaster.

Children are used to death as part of the natural life cycle. Leaves turn brown, flowers wilt and bugs get squished by little toes. By the time a child typically experiences a loss, he has begun to formulate his own concept of death. When loss or death is anticipated, we often have time to prepare our children and while still very upsetting, the shock is somewhat less.
By the very nature of what a disaster is, we experience shock, disbelief, and often a sense of violence. The suddenness of the event and its complete unexpectedness leaves us struggling desperately to make sense out of something we do not understand. Disasters do not feel natural and they often defy the basic assumptions we have come to make about life. In this case, we have almost learned over the years to see space travel as very safe and almost mundane. Shuttles come and go and we barely pay attention, as they seem so commonplace.

A Last "Thumbs-Ups" - Col. Ilan Ramon
An Eternal Inspiration of Hope, Achievement and Humanity to Every Israeli and Jewish Child

This shuttle flight however was very different. This time we had one of our own men going into flight. Both young and old felt connected and at a time where we have been dealing with so much tragedy, we saw Ilan Ramon, as our national hero. Now our hero is dead, and our children are once again faced with the reality that young healthy adults can die with almost no reason. What can we do to help our children when they must face yet another loss?

1. Talk with your children - Explain what happened as best as you can and let them know that while there are often no explanations that make sense, we have to be hopeful that something positive will come out of this. Help them make sense out of what they watch on television and what they hear. Sometimes, things are beyond our control and this is very hard for all of us to face and accept. Bad things happen to good people and this may not be at all easy to understand and accept.

2. Listen to your children’s concerns and see what you can do to answer their questions, give them a better understanding or simply be there for a hug and to provide comfort. Let them know that you too share their pain and sadness. Their concerns and fears may be very different than you might expect so be prepared for just about anything.

3. Find ways to celebrate Ramon’s life. For many school children, Ilan Ramon was a real hero. He can be memorialized through artwork, photo albums and scrapbooks, poetry or whatever. Help the children to know how special he was and help them see how much he did for our country both on the ground and in space. Focus on the positive things that he did. For those who would like to do a tzedakah project, help your children come up with something special. Ramon was a child of Holocaust survivors and maybe your child can help carry on this generational link. He carried with him a picture, a special mezuzah and chumash. We can all learn more about the meaning behind these. Maybe through planting a tree, finding out more about the experiments he conducted or sending a card to his family, your child can come up with the perfect project that gives more meaning to his death.

4. Encourage children to go on and move forward with their lives. Give them a continued sense of control over all that you can. Keep routines as much as possible while being there for them should they need a little extra understanding. This is something that they can do for all the people that were killed in this space mission. It might be hard to have faith and to see the importance of it but to carry on the dreams that were part of the mission, is in many ways helping to carry on their work.

5. Some children will have a hard time coping and others will move on shortly as if nothing happened. For those children that experience nightmares or other sleep problems, show signs of depression or withdrawal, seem overly preoccupied with the loss, become fearful of air travel or simply want their children in close contact at all times get professional help.

Through our actions we encourage our children to hope and pray for a better tomorrow. We give our children the faith needed to weather these difficult times. We inadvertently teach them the meaning of patriotism. We have much to be proud of both in space and on the ground. Ilan Ramon helped our children to feel pride in the country we know as home. May his memory always be for a blessing.

Dr. Batya L. Ludman is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra’anana. She works with children of all ages and their families as well as with adults and couples in short term solution focused psychotherapy. She specializes in trauma, bereavement and loss, stress, anxiety and depression, parenting issues, behavioral problems, and marital/communication issues. She does workshops on bereavement, stress management, and trauma, and has published extensively in both the professional and lay literature. She currently has a monthly column in the Jerusalem Post and is a frequent columnist for Israel News Agency. For more information, please view her website at http://go.to/drbatyaludman or write her at ludman@netvision.net.il