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The Sydney siege: Remembering the day the city stood still


As the people of Sydney remember the victims of the Martin Place hostage crisis a year ago, it's important to remember that for many people still on the road to recovery, anniversaries can be a trying time.

Tuesday December 15, 2015

In the days after the Sydney siege, Martin Place was filled with floral tributes from the public in memory of those who died and those who survived the crisis. Photo: John Cowper

On a sunny December day in 2014, the city of Sydney stood still. A lone gunman had entered the Lindt chocolate café in the centre of the CBD. Eighteen people were held hostage; the city held its breath. After a tense 16-hour standoff, the siege came to an abrupt and tragic conclusion: three people (including the gunman) dead and three other hostages and a police officer injured.

A city in shock

The Sydney siege resulted in an outpouring of grief: Sydney stood in shock, the nation mourned and the world offered its condolences.

Disasters, whether natural or manmade, have the ability to connect with people far and wide. Through extensive media coverage, the devastating reality of a disaster can trigger a collective experience of distress, shock and grief on a local, national or even international level.

After the Sydney siege, Australia's collective grief began to take shape. People of all kinds and from all over were affected by the events of that day and came to show their condolences with flowers and messages of compassion. Soon, over 100,000 bouquets were laid in a field of flowers and the once grey pavements of Martin Place turned into a kaleidoscope of colours.

Coping with anniversaries of tragic events

Exactly one year on, the events of that tragic day will be remembered by everyone who it affected. Recovering from a major disaster can be a long, complex, and often emotional journey-and anniversaries can be a stressful part of that recovery.

Some parts of the community will have moved on, while others continue to be prone to feelings of anxiety, sadness and frustration as a result of what they have lived through, what they have lost and the challenges of re-establishing their lives. For many people, anniversaries remind them of their losses. Some people may re-experience thoughts, feelings and events that occurred at the time of the emergency and in the days and weeks that followed.

Rob Gordon, psychologist and consultant to Red Cross, says it's important that people recognise that anniversaries can be a difficult time: "During anniversaries, renewed focus on the disaster and images in the media can raise feelings of grief, guilt, sadness or regret. It could even lead some people re-experience the thoughts, feelings and events that occurred and in the days, weeks and months that followed."

"Emergencies by their very nature are disruptive and can be extremely stressful, both during and after the event, and there are simple yet important steps you can take for your wellbeing and recovery."

  • Understand that people respond differently to anniversaries 
    It is important to acknowledge that there is no one way that people affected by a disaster are 'suppose' to feel during an anniversary. You may cry or feel sad, angry, irritable, confused or uncertain of exactly what you are thinking or feeling. You may not feel anything different to normal.

  • Do what is right for you
    It is important to try not to put the needs of others before your own needs on anniversaries. Each person should spend the day in the way that will be most helpful to themselves. Trying to make things better for others may result in misunderstandings and may not allow for the best self-care.

    Know that there are many ways of acknowledging anniversaries. You may wish to join a community event, participate in your own rituals or spend the day out of the area. Some people may choose to spend the day alone as an opportunity for quiet solitude and reflection, others may want to join with neighbours, friends and family to find strength and comfort in coming together. Do whatever you think will work best for you.

  • Talk about it if you need to 
    There is no need to talk about distressing events unless you want to. But if you do, don't be afraid to reach out for help and support from friends family or professional organisations like LifelineBeyondblue and Kids Help Line.

If you or someone you know was affected by the Sydney siege, or any disaster, Red Cross has lots of free resources to help with recovery available at redcross.org.au/emergency-resources. There are also resources specifically for young people aged 12 to 25 at aftertheemergency.redcross.org.au.

Listen to our podcast for more advice about dealing with memorials and anniversaries of disasters.

If you need to talk to someone to get the support you need, don't hesitate to get in touch with a professional organisation such as LifelineBeyondblue and Kids Help Line.

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