When news broke that a fire broke out at the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah tahfiz, a religious school in Kampung Datuk Keramat and claimed the lives of 21 young students and two teachers, it was almost too tragic to believe. When I personally saw it on The Star, I was clocking into work, and it had happened just a few hours earlier that morning, I felt numb — or in denial. I thought I read the headline wrongly. I even thought, “Surely this is a mistake”, not really entirely processing the gravity of what happened. Even the number — 23 lives — I dismissed as a typo.
But no, there was nothing Fake News about the reportage, and news developed that these young pupils and their teachers were trapped in a fire, and tried to escape. They tragically lost their lives in the early hours of 14 September 2017, when a fire started outside the door of their dormitory that was on the second floor, and they could not fight their way out.
As I write this, it’s the day before Malaysia Day, which has always been a special place in every Malaysian’s heart. But it seems that this year, it’s steeped in tragedy and loss. As the news spread on social media, people started pouring their hearts out and tears were shed collectively across the nation.
Then the questions began. How can this happen? Why them? Why do I feel this way? I can’t imagine the pain and grief. How are the survivors? How can I help? What can I do?
I spoke to Katyana Azman, Consultant Psychologist (Child Psychologist), Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur, to walk us through facing loss and when tragedy hits.
In minutes, nay, seconds, news can spread across the country and the world. This has made the experience of a tragedy that much more different compared to say, 50 years ago. And what has happened is that people seem to “share” the grief or similar feelings of loss and helplessness. Just as our country lost two planes, MH370 and MH17, in two separate airline-related incidents, we know how this can shake a country to its core.
So it got me thinking, is there such thing as a collective grief?
“There is no clinical evidence for something like this but yes the Internet and social media has made the experience much more personal. For example, when Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington passed away, I had patients tell me how closely connected they felt when he died and how they empathised with his journey,” she said.
As Malaysians, we’re a close-knit group. We tend to have our differences and so on, but we’ve grown up in a very community-based society. Even if this happens miles from you, the impact feels so close to home.
“That’s why we take these things on as a society. We don’t mourn or grief in isolation, we empathise with the families and tend to rally around each other. Historically, we’ve never been raised to be the kind of people that treated things like ‘Oh, that only happens to you.'” In this way, there’s potential for it all to come together and for us to deliver support on a bigger scale.