'Love Amid the Ruins': Tread Lightly

Plane crash survivors. Parents of a murdered child. 9/11 spouses.

Those who survive life's harshest blows often turn to others who have experienced similar pain. Just this week, reports swirled about the latest love match: The mother of missing teen Natalee Holloway and the father of slain child model JonBenet Ramsey.

Relationships in the aftermath of tragedy -- with all the fireworks of common grief and understanding -- often fizzle as time moves on. But finding a romantic connection is a common human response to grief, according to psychologists.

"Trauma is overwhelming," said Therese Rando, a clinical psychologist from the Institute for the Treatment and Study of Loss in Warwick, R.I., who counseled patients after the 2003 nightclub inferno.

"We feel alone and unfamiliar, anxious and confused," she said. "We look to others for our sense of self and isolation and how to deal with it. That's why mutual support groups resonate -- because of the 'been there done that' the rest of the world can't understand."

John Ramsey and Beth Holloway Twitty met through a speakers' organization, according to their shared lawyer. Psychologists say that those who have lost a child or spouse often find each other in like-minded causes, support groups and chat rooms.

Seeking love can be a healthy part of grieving, but attraction alone is not enough to hold a couple together, said Rando. Trying to avoid pain or seeking an immediate replacement to avoid dealing with mourning will not stand the test of time.

"A long-term relationship has to be based on more than initial commonality," said Rando. "It has to be based on healthy factors like empathy and respect."

In the aftermath of 9/11, the wives of fallen firefighters turned to their husbands and co-workers for solace. Many other widowed spouses sought comfort from one another. Rescue workers fell in love with volunteers.

"It's complicated," said Grace Christ, a professor at Columbia University's School of Social Work, who has collaborated with the New York City Fire Department to counsel 9/11 wives with dependent children.

"These women are in the process of reconstituting their lives and identities and trying to move forward," said Christ. "They are redefining their selves and their families. It's more stressful than people commonly understand."

Last year, in a survey leading up to the five-year anniversary of 9/11, Columbia's counselors asked the 250 firefighter wives about their lives. Only 15 percent of the 115 widows who responded had remarried.

Though young -- most were under 45 -- another 49 percent said they were not dating at all.

While the wives were more comfortable and confident with their lives, they still recognized the complexity of dating again, according to Christ. "It's not that simple," she said. "And it takes time."

Still, these women said they felt it was important to start anew even if though they "felt as if they were still grieving," said Christ. When they did, they were drawn to relationships that "reminded them of the old one."

Nikki Stern, a freelance writer from Princeton, N.J., lost her husband Jim on the 94th floor of 1 World Trade Center. Tall, handsome and easy to get along with, he had been the center of her life throughout their strong, 11-year marriage.

"He was a computer person, not one of those movers and shakers in the American finance world," Stern told ABC News. "We just adored each other."

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