A Practical Application
In the Jan. 4 and 11 issues I reprinted some triggers that may spark awful flashbacks for Holocaust Survivors. When confronted with these triggers, their reaction might cause them to behave in a way that non-Jewish or unknowledgeable caregivers and even relatives might not understand. That is why it is so important for anyone seeking to work with, or be supportive of, this population to understand what these triggers might be. In this way they can either avoid them or help the person cope if they can’t be avoided. I have received several letters that addressed this very topic.
Dear Ms. Novick,
I read your column every week even though I’m neither chronically ill nor a well spouse. (And I hope I never qualify as either one!)
I read with interest, your column re: Holocaust Survivor reactions. I live in New York City and am a professional musician. While my knowledge is probably much less than qualified therapists, doctors, social workers etc., I thought the following might interest you.
If I am working a job before an audience of the Jewish elderly (I play a lot of single engagements and parties, club dates etc.) and I even hear a hint of a European accent, or G-d forbid, see numbers on someone’s arm, I never play Viennese waltzes. I also try to stay away from German/Austrian composers, even those who died long before the Holocaust.
Also, just a thought… if I was a social director, I would think twice about taking a group of senior citizens to see a Wagnerian opera or even a show like Cabaret, or the Sound of Music, because of where and when the last two take place.
I had just finished reading your article on “triggers” when I received a call from a very upset friend who works in an office in her home. She had just seen two weekly clients, a mother and daughter. She told me that her cleaning lady had left her basement door open accidentally and her two dogs ran into her office, barking.
“I understand people are afraid of dogs. That’s why I keep mine downstairs.” She told me. “But I’ve never seen a reaction like this. The daughter was cowering on the couch, screaming. The mother was beyond fright and began kicking my dogs.”
She said that what disturbed her most, was that the women didn’t stop kicking her dogs and screaming (causing the dogs to bark louder and snarl) even when she told them to stop, and took hold of her dogs and told them that the dogs wouldn’t harm them. The daughter just kept screaming after she took the dogs away.
My friend just didn’t understand this overreaction.
Having just read about dogs being one of the “triggers” I thought the mother might have very well been a survivor. She probably saw people attacked, mutilated and killed by dogs that were trained to do just that. Any one experiencing that first-hand, or hearing about it from a parent, would easily react in the way she described.
When I told her this, her anger and confusion at her clients vanished. In fact she felt badly about the incident and vowed to be more careful with her dogs. Before these clients come again, she told me she would double-check that the dogs could not get out of the basement.
Dear Ms. Novick,
Thank you for the articles and list of triggers. I am a nurse dealing with the older population. I have experienced an interesting contradiction that I’d like to share with your readers. If I wear my white coat when I am working with Holocaust survivors, I have noticed they get agitated. If I don’t wear my white coat with other seniors, they don’t think I’m a nurse. My solution is to keep the white coat on a hook in my office and use my judgment about when to wear it and when not to. I know this may sound like a silly nothing, but I have noticed it made a big difference with the senior population I treat.
Whether we are professionals, family members, neighbors or a young adult doing chesed; whether we are Jewish or not, it is important to be aware of the history that has had – and continues to have – such an enormous impact on the older population in our midst. It is our responsibility to understand how what we may consider every day occurrences, can cause terrible anxiety in another. It is incumbent on us to not only be aware of these triggers, but to plan practical ways of avoiding them or working around them. We are, after all, “our brother’s keeper.”
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.