Calgarians reel, reach out after Paris attacks

Val Fortney • Calgary Herald • November 17, 2015

Canadian Rapid Response Team chaplain Ron (in red), among the crowd of people coming to pay their respects in front of La Belle Equipe restaurant.

It is known as the City of Light. It is also the City of Love.

Like so many others around the world, Laurent Trabadello has a personal connection to the magic of Paris.

“It’s where we met and fell in love,” says the native of France and project manager with Samaritan’s Purse, who came to Calgary with his Parisian-born wife Irene in 1997.

When he felt his “heart breaking” on Friday, Trabadello took a moment to grieve. Then, he began packing his bags.

“It’s very special for me to be here,” he says over the phone on Tuesday afternoon, the day after he and his team landed in the city hit by terrorist attacks. “It is such a privilege to be here, among the people grieving.”

It’s a role Trabadello has ample experience in. In addition to his work at Samaritan’s Purse, Trabadello is also part of  the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (RRT). Over the past few years, the team has attended to the grief-stricken —in the aftermath of such tragedies as the Alberta flood, the killings of five students in Brentwood and, most recently, the deaths of three sisters in a farm accident in central Alberta.

This week, a team of seven from the RRT, which includes five Canadians, are in Paris, helping those who had an up-close experience with this recent spate of horror.

Committed to working for the next two weeks with local residents, clergy and other support people, the team has already spent hours at two of the sites of Friday’s carnage — La Belle Equipe restaurant, where 19 were killed and the memorials around the Bataclan Theatre, where 89 were slaughtered.

“It is a very, very intense situation,” says Trabadello, who has met family members posting photos of their dead loved ones at memorials, locals who were sent running for their lives on Friday and others who by chance were kept out of harm’s way.

“One lady I spoke with had planned to be at La Belle Equipe for a birthday celebration,” he says. “She and her friends decided, at the very last moment, to go to another restaurant.”

In the last month, the Islamic State downed a Russian plane, killed 43 and injured 239 in a bombing in Lebanon, and attacked in Paris, leaving 129 dead and more than 300 injured. On Tuesday, a soccer stadium in Hannover, Germany, was evacuated after authorities feared another attack.

While the impact of the atrocities are felt most by those nearby, ripple effects can be found close to home, with social media flooded by the news and reaction.

Feeling traumatized by something that happened across an ocean, says Cathy Keough, is nothing to be ashamed or even embarrassed about.

“There is a greater sense of closeness than ever before,” says Keough, director of counselling initiatives for the Calgary Counselling Centre. “And, in fact, many people’s connections are now global.”

Keough says that she isn’t at all surprised people here are experiencing varying degrees of trauma. For some, she says, it can cause anxiety and sleep problems, while for those who have suffered trauma in the past, it can be even more intense.

“Any first responders will have vulnerability,” says Keough, who recommends people seek out professional help if their anxiety and fear goes on for too long or impairs daily functioning.  “Also, those who have experienced things like sexual assault, or have been victims of a severe crime, are more vulnerable.”

Donna Tona is one of those vulnerable people.

“Every time I hear about something like Paris, I relive 10 other disasters I responded to over the years,” says Tona, a trauma specialist who worked for several years with the Calgary Police Service. She went to New York not long after 9/11 to help and, in 1995, accompanied a man to the morgue to identify the severed hand of his wife, who was killed in the Oklahoma federal building bombing.

Tona, who today runs her own trauma management firm in Leduc, says one thing that might help people here cope with anxiety and fear is knowing how to be vigilant in this new era of terrorism. The federal government, she says “needs to empower us on what to look out for … it’s like we forget this happened in Canada just one year ago.”

While he has a different approach, Trabadello hopes to empower people closest to the scene, with help from the woman who captured his heart in Paris more than two decades ago.

“My wife arrives tomorrow,” he says. “We’re mindful of the risks, but this is where we want to be right now, helping to heal broken hearts.”

Read more: http://calgaryherald.com/opinion/columnists/fortney-calgarians-reel-reach-out-after-paris-attacks

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