Making grief worse

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Making grief worse

Though a provisional group memorial altar was set up inside the Olympic Memorial Hall in Ansan, Gyeonggi, relatives are deep in grief as the bodies of their loved ones salvaged from the capsized ferry Sewol arrived one after another at morgues in hospitals around South Jeolla.

But those relatives were also wary of unfamiliar faces. A housewife complained about representatives of various civic groups barging in on their grief and only making matters worse. As it turned out, a man who had been acting as an ad hoc representative of the families with missing children was actually someone who intended to run for office in June 4 local elections. He had nothing to do with the victims of the tragedy.

Families said that an outsider instigated them to try to march on the Blue House in Seoul to deliver their complaints about the government’s mishandling of the tragedy. Some brokers reportedly approached distressed families with a promise to get their kids out from the sunken ship - at a cost of 100 million won ($96,302).

That’s not all. The establishment of the group altar was delayed by sharp disagreements among Gyeonggi, Ansan and the Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education over its location. On the issue of autopsies, too, local politicians from the ruling and opposition parties are squabbling, determined to wring some political gain out of the tragedy.

Many volunteers are sincerely and selflessly trying to help the victims’ families recover from their losses. But the behavior of an evil-minded minority can inflict irrevocable anguish on the families. A psychiatrist at the Korea University Medical Center underscored that our society must help survivors to recover from the emotional trauma. What’s actually happening is the opposite.

The psychiatrist raised the possibility that many of the victims’ relatives could develop a severe anger disorder as a result of the disaster they witnessed live on television, which could lead to a fatal loss of trust in society as a whole. This would hardly be surprising. The captain and crew fled the ship, leaving the students behind. The 20-year-old ferry’s safety tests weren’t very credible. The government’s disaster management systems had gaping, loopholes, not to mention its repeated flip-flops on the exact numbers of passengers, survivors and those missing.

Anger disorders can end up in suicide. There is a need for national healing. The government must mend our rotten system. If that job is not properly done, we have no hope for the future.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 23, Page 30

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