Written by Stanley Ly, MA, LPC, Director, Faculty and Staff Assistance Program
Dec 30, 2022 will mark the one year anniversary since the Marshall Fire damaged and destroyed more than 1,000 homes and businesses in Superior, Louisville and Boulder County, disrupting and displacing many lives in our community. We understand that this anniversary may be difficult for many of our community members, especially as responders continue efforts to contain the Sunshine Wildland Fire outside of Boulder.
Anniversaries of difficult and traumatic events may bring up a variety of feelings or lead to intense reactions. Although it may be tempting to find ways to avoid those difficult feelings, bringing purposeful attention and self-compassion around anniversaries of traumatic events, like the Marshall Fire, can make these reactions less severe and help those affected feel more empowered.
Anniversary reactions are usually involuntary feelings on or near the anniversary date that bring up strong reminders or memories of a traumatic event itself. These involuntary feelings may resemble fearfulness, anxiety, sadness, numbness, hyperarousal or other difficult feelings.
Physical symptoms, like stomach pain, fatigue, nervousness, lethargy or headaches, may also manifest near the anniversary date. Those who have been affected may find themselves isolating, or using alcohol or other drugs to cope.
It is also important to note that the impact of an anniversary can vary from person to person and it’s best to try not to compare the experiences of those who were impacted by the same or similar event, as it is common to have different needs and reactions, even within the same family.
For Marshall Fire survivors, the one year anniversary may bring about particular sensitivity to the wind or the smell of smoke, including smoke plumes from a chimney. They may also experience acute anxiety and grief.
What to do about anniversary reactions
Look to be proactive and intentional about taking care of yourself on the anniversary, as well as the days leading up to the anniversary.
Here are some ideas to consider:
Helping children cope
Parents should pay close attention to their children’s’ reactions and behavior around the anniversary of traumatic events. Non-adult children may not possess the emotional insight and language to identify their feelings, let alone communicate their feelings or ask for help. Children are also more likely to demonstrate their feelings through changes in their behavior.
Here are some tips to consider:
Helping survivors of the Marshall Fire
You may find yourself empowered and motivated to support a colleague or friend who was impacted by the Marshall Fire.
Here are some tips:
The Marshall Fire disrupted many community members' sense of safety and comfort, whether they were directly or indirectly affected. The wildfire uprooted families and neighbors, changing the landscape of communities, in some cases permanently. Practicing mindfulness and letting go of things that are no longer possible affords you a chance to process grief and recycle that energy into the people and things that meaningfully contribute to your life and the important lives around you.
Learn more ways to help yourself and others following a traumatic event