The TV cameras have left town. The memorial services are finished. Now is a natural — and essential — time for the communities affected by the Sago Mine disaster to be allowed to quietly grieve, social service professionals in the area say.
Families and friends need time to grieve for the 12 men who died after being trapped by the mine explosion. And coal-mining families all over the region need time to get reaccustomed to their loved ones going underground every day.
“The families need to know that if they need us, we’re here,” said Linda Watson, coordinator of the Family Resource Network in Barbour County. “They had to be so pleased with the outpourings of support.
“Now, the families need to be left alone to grieve.”
Watson’s husband is a Sago miner. He returned to work last week at a different International Coal Group mine. The job comes with dangers that many coal miners and their families had, over decades, come to see as commonplace.
Sago brought those dangers back to the forefront. “A month from now, it will be back to commonplace,” Watson said. “Because it has to. You couldn’t live the other way.”
Mountain Hospice is one of the organizations that offers ongoing support, both for the miners’ families and the community at large.
“It’s just been so chaotic” in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, said Shannon Gear, director of development. Right before Sago, there were the recent, unexpected deaths of a local firefighter and the wife of the superintendent of schools.
“It’s such a close-knit community,” Gear said. “The whole community has been devastated by everything.”
Mountain Hospice is experienced in long-term follow-up with friends and family, she said. It has a regular grief support group, led by social worker Sue Lewis, that is “absolutely, definitely open for any individual, as well as the miners’ families and children,” Gear said. For information on the group, call (888) 763-7789.
The hospice’s social workers also do one-on-one grief counseling, Gear said. The staff and volunteers are local people, so they understand the local tradition that families take care of their own, she said.
“If somebody isn’t the social type, we have a library,” she said.
“Anybody from the community can utilize our library. There’s a lot of information you can call and get, maybe to help a family member ... that just won’t go get support or help.”
In any hardship in this community, Gear said, faith plays a major role.
“We have a lot of Christian-oriented people,” she said.
Pastor Downing Gregory of the Faith Way Baptist Church in Philippi said that in one way, he hopes the community doesn’t completely get back to “normal.”
“We’ve had normality, and now we’ve had tragedy,” he said. “But the thing of it is, it has brought us closer to God. And as we’re closer to God, now we’re closer to one another.”
“People are coming to church. They’re re-evaluating their lives. They’re making new commitments to the Lord. People are caring more, one for the other.
“Maybe we don’t want to go back to normality.”