Marco Werman: Today's news about the Todashev case comes just as we're gearing up for the anniversary of the Marathon Bombings here in Boston 3 weeks from today. Public events marking the occasion have already begun. At a recent forum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, runner and doctor Natalie Stavas recounted her experience at the marathon last year. She was in the last stretch of the race when the bombs went off. Instead of running away from the mayhem, she ran directly into it.
Natalie Stavas: I remember when I got to the scene, I couldn't hear, I couldn't see, I just didn't know what was going on and suddenly I snapped to and I started working on the people that were there in front of me and it was really hard. I have a lot of guilt, actually, from that day because one of the women that I tried to treat did not survive and it's hard to live with that. Usually I don't get choked up when I talk about it, I've talked about this so many times, but for me moving forward, it's 'how can we come together as a community and help each other heal?' because we all were affected. I feel that if I can help you, you can help me and we can all recover together and be runners and spectators and Bostonians for this upcoming marathon.
Werman: Again, that was Natalie Stavas, a pediatrician who ran in last year's marathon and ended up treating victims at the site of the second blast. She spoke at the Cambridge Public Library earlier this month. Joining me now in the studio is social worker Alice Cohen and Alice, we last spoke with you during the lockdown last year, that incredibly dramatic day, the end of the week of the Boston Bombing during the Marathon. We were literally ordered to stay indoors at home while authorities hunted down the remaining suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. We're at a very different point now but maybe you can help us with some similar advice. What do anniversaries represent in the aftermath of such a traumatic event like this one, especially the first one, the symbolism of the first year having passed?
Alice Cohen: For some people, the first year will have felt like a blip, the anniversary will have come so quickly and it will seem impossible that it was actually a whole year ago. The interesting thing about traumatic memory is that it's very much sense oriented. You remember sounds or pictures. I know people who were close to the race who have a very high startle response right now when they hear a loud noise because the sound is very evocative. So it's likely that people are going to be triggered in their environment this year and possibly taken by surprise, so one thing that people can do is know that that could be coming and feel mentally prepared for it, to kind of manage it when it comes up.
Werman: What kind of worries and behaviors have you been noticing in people lately as this date approaches?
Cohen: I notice that people are more anxious in crowds. I was just at a road race in Cambridge a few weeks ago. You can see people in the crowd looking around more, being a little more visually hypervigilant. I think I'm aware that people are talking to me about controlling how much media they're watching. I think that's wise to take a very intentional and overt control of how much media you're looking at yourself and the most important: how much media you're sharing with your children.
Werman: Is there something in what Natalie Stavas was saying, that there is a moment for everybody to heal together. Is that realistic?
Cohen: What's realistic is that we've all experienced a trauma and we have a commonality in experience, much like people in a war or a battle, we were all in the same place at the same time, experiencing a facet of something. The more we share that with each other, the more closeness we can have. If we take any profit from this adversity, it's that we need to be more connected.
Werman: Alice, you, like me, we're from Cambridge, we come across people all the time now who were runners, also victims who survived, first responders who were in the thick of it, of course MIT policeman Sean Collier killed not far from where we live. A lot of factors that still are there in Cambridge, in Boston. What about you? What were or are you experiencing?
Cohen: There are certain places in Cambridge that I find make me feel uncomfortable. I have trouble at those two gas stations on that corner where the guy got out of the car and I find that I have what we would call a "traumatic stress response." My heart rate goes up, my breathing gets a little shallow, I grip the wheel of my car a little tighter and I try to get by and then take some deep breaths. I walk a lot in Cambridge, I have trouble walking around MIT. But I also find, when I hear news of the trial, that I think a lot about this child and what happened to this child and what happened in his mind that made what he did seem right to him, which I'm sure people are going to loathe my saying, but I do think about him.
Werman: I'm sure there are people out there who are feeling the same things you are feeling, so any advice to overcome this thoughts?
Cohen: I try to make room for everything and let it pass by. I think that when we get stuck in these thoughts and we feel a lack of fluidity, a frozen quality or a feeling of being victimized ourselves in the present, it's very important to have a change of scene. Go outside, listen to something you've never heard before, change the music that you listen to, change your routine, stay tuned into how you're feeling. Everything that people experienced this year is normal. They are normal reactions to really stressful events and we're here. We're here, we're still talking about it, we're still connected and we're trying to use the narrative of this experience to change what we do now and that's the most healthy thing that people can do.
Werman: Alice Cohen, thanks so much for coming in.
Cohen: Thank you.
Werman: Alice Cohen is a social worker in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She facilitated counselling sessions for a variety of groups in the wake of last year's Boston Marathon Bombings.