Counselor offers advice on coping with tragedies, such as Jorelys Rivera's death
by Megan Thornton
mthornton@cherokeetribune.com
December 07, 2011 12:00 AM | 1554 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CANTON — In the wake of 7-year-old Jorelys Rivera’s untimely death, Jack Burns, a licensed professional counselor with BridgeMill Counseling Center in Canton, spoke with the Cherokee Tribune to shed light on best practices for coping with traumatic events, and provided his advice to help the family move forward after their devastating loss.

Burns has practiced in the metro Atlanta area since 1984 and received a master’s degree in counseling from Pepperdine University.

Below is what came from a phone interview Tuesday afternoon.

Q: What kind of advice would you give to Joselin Rivera, Jorelys’ mother, along with the rest of the Rivera family to begin to cope with this tragedy?

Burns: I would like to try to reach out to her and offer free counseling to Ms. Rivera and her children. First, she’s going to need a strong support system of family and friends as well as professional help to get through the horrible grieving process. There is going to be a lot of anger, hurt, guilt, even some strange feelings.

Q: On that note, what kind of feelings do you think Rivera is experiencing right now?

Burns: Her mind will be a blur — she needs someone to help her take the basic first steps. The main thing I encourage is for her to reach out to someone professional who understands this process.

In these cases, affected individuals need to express their emotions and sometimes these feelings don’t make logical sense. She’ll likely have horrible guilt and start questioning herself and those around her. It will eventually lead to some form of forgiveness down the road — forgiving herself, those surrounding the accident, her child, and at some point forgive the man that caused all this. Forgiveness sets the forgiver free.

But right now, her emotions need to come out. It will involve a lot of crying, talking, writing, praying and being around people to give comfort and empathy. It’s really rough the first few weeks — it will feel like a heavy barrel of cement on her back for quite a while, but she will do better with it in time and will be able to go forward.

These next few weeks will be critical for her to handle things in the right way.

Q: What kind of impact do tragedies like this have on families, as well as children who knew the victim?

Burns: It’s so difficult for a family to go through something like this because it can cause extreme shock. The family, including Jorelys’ younger siblings, may be feeling that nothing seems right anymore.

The first thing most people feel is shock. They ask themselves, ‘How can this be happening?’ and say that it must be a bad dream. Then, they begin to feel extreme guilt. They think, ‘I should have been able to do something to prevent it.’

Other kids in Jorelys’ life, like classmates or friends, may feel they could have been nicer, maybe they could have shared their toys. Depending on how old these kids are, they may need help getting through this, too. They may also feel guilt, anger and frustration, all while looking back at what they could have all been doing differently.

Most people close to Jorelys will be feeling anguish, unbelievable pain, a sense of overwhelming loss, disbelief and denial. Thoughts like, ‘This can’t be happening,’ will keep going through their minds.

In the grieving process, one day everything may be OK, the next day you’ll feel like you’re in a ditch again. Right now, people close to Jorelys will feel unbelievable hurt and a ton of denial.

Q: How much time does it generally take to deal with a devastating loss, such as this?

Burns: Everyone is different. I usually tell people going through any great loss, it will take at least a year.

You’ve got to give yourself time. It will likely happen in stages. The first few weeks will likely be horrible, the next few months will get a little better, but there will still be a sense of loss for a long time.

After the first year, most people are adjusting. They are likely not punishing themselves anymore and beginning to deal with their guilt. It’s a lengthy process, but at that point, most will have a pretty good understanding of where they are in their own personal healing process.

Q: Jorelys’ attacker or attackers have yet to be found. With these kinds of cases, the offender is often someone close to the child. Could you explain why?

Burns: It’s usually a factor of trust. A family member is someone kids generally tend to trust more. It can be easier to get past the initial emotional wall of fear for a child if that person is well-known to them. Even someone like a close friend of the family, someone in the neighborhood or someone a child is used to being around to some degree — there is some level of trust to where a child wouldn’t be in fear of that person as they would when encountering a complete stranger.

Q: What is the mentality of someone who would commit this kind of crime?



Burns: Statistics show that it is usually someone that has been a victim themselves many times. Obviously, there has been a lot of torment in the abuser’s own family life. It could have been physical, verbal or sexual abuse, physical and/or emotional abandonment — there is usually some connection to the abuser’s past. Most of it comes from how the individual was raised and the trauma they faced along the way.

Many times, if that type of abuse is not dealt with, it can lead to that person traumatizing someone else. Sometimes the abuser harbors so much anger, they see it as a way to release and get even with society.

I have never been involved with a case where a person who committed this type of crime had not been through severe trauma, a difficult childhood and/or some type of parental issues. Fortunately, it must be noted that not everyone who goes through this goes on to victimize someone else.

For more information on Burns and his counseling services, visit www.bridgemill

counselingcenter.com
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