A new survey shows that 51 percent of the parents of those killed by a right-wing extremist on July 22, 2011 are still on long-term sick leave, or not back at work full-time. More than two-thirds are still struggling with intense grief, four years after the attacks.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported Wednesday, on the anniversary of the attacks, that the survey was part of a research project on those who lost loved ones in the attacks, led by Professor Kari Dyregrov of the Center for Crisis Psychology in Bergen.
‘Quite intense’ sorrow
Her research shows that two of three parents of children killed in the attack on the Labour Party’s youth summer camp still have clear symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome. Six of 10 parents also continue to struggle with sorrow “of quite intense character.”
While some parents have made progress in trying to recover from the loss of their children, others have regressed, Dyregrov told Aftenposten. “There’s only a small group that’s handling this well,” she said. “The majority are still struggling a lot.”
She pointed out that in addition to coping with the loss of a child, the parents have also had to deal with the massive and extreme violence and shock of the attacks, the police investigation and lengthy court case afterwards, and ongoing memorials that constantly stir up memories in a highly public manner. Those memorials are due to be toned down, and take on a more private character, after next year’s five-year anniversary of the attacks.
A daughter’s screams
Unni Espeland Marcussen, mother of a 17-year-old daughter who’s believed to be the last victim of the Norwegian white supremacist who gunned down Labour Party summer campers on the island of Utøya, said the nightmare began with shock and her “blood turning to ice” after she heard the first radio reports of shooting on island. Her daughter Andrine had just called on her mobile phone, and was screaming until the call was cut off.
“I don’t know where the past four years have gone,” Marcussen told Aftenposten. She described the first year as “a constant state of emergency,” as her family waited for the autopsy report, for the court case against the gunman and for answers. Dyregrov describes the process as “the external noise” that surrounded the families dealing with the loss of a child.
“There was so much that took the focus away from their personal losses,” Dyrgrove said, referring to the media barrage, support concerts and memorials, the lengthy court case, the investigation into severe problems with the emergency response to the attacks and debate over monuments and redevelopment of the bombed government complex.
‘Will never understand’
Marcussen said she’s often wondered how she would have reacted if her daughter had been killed in a car accident on her way to the summer camp, for example. “I’ve concluded it would have been different,” she said. “I know that car accidents are something that can happen. I will never understand what happened (on July 22, 2011). And there wouldn’t have been such a painful process afterwards.”
Dyregrove, who specializes in the effects on families who have lost children and those suffering from massive trauma, conducted the survey 40 months after the young Norwegian man bombed Norway’s government headquarters and then carried out a massacre on the Labour Party youth group’s island of Utøya, where its summer camp was underway. The two attacks killed 77 people and injured scores more. A total of 220 survivors took part in the survey, resulting in 79 percent of those killed being represented by either parents, siblings, partners or children.