SIM:Lieutenant JG Karynn Ehlanii - Grieving as a Group Part I

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Several notes on this SIM. The first is that I'd like to thank Cmdr. Ben Walker, Lt. Cmdr. Cara Maria, Lt. Kolk, Lt. JG Nek Illium, and PNPCs, Lt. JG Vanessa Kipps (SIMmed by Lt. JG William Rogers), Ensign Marty Devereaux (SIMmed by Lt. Cmdr. Danny Wilde), and PO3C Che'tara (SIMmed by Lt. Jhen Thelev) for all their contributions. The second note is that this SIM was actually written in multiple parts that I've taken and pieced together using my own narration. I'm posting it this way because I think it demonstrates a good group counseling session.
This takes place shortly after the ship has experienced two devastating missions. The first, our trip through a surprise wormhole with the USS Ursa Major and USS Independence-A, resulted in a surprise decompression of the Flight Deck leading to the loss of 28 lives. During the second, the crew was evacuated to the surface of Rakis, where almost 10% were eaten by "land sharks" and many of the remaining crew were wounded. In response, Karynn has organized a series of group counseling sessions to help guide the crew through dealing with these losses. This is one session in the first round.

((Holodeck 2))

::With a few calming breaths Karynn picked up a PADD and exited her office, heading toward holodeck 2 after leaving instructions for her yeoman to send anyone looking for the grief counseling sessions to the same holodeck. She had gotten a few responses from people signing up for her first session at 1100 hours and expected that there would be a few walk-ins, especially for the session with the least notice. As she strolled down the hallway she tried to run through all the helpful things she could say. After a short walk and a quick ride in a turbolift, she arrived at holodeck two, where several crewmen from the ops department had just finished setting up a circle of chairs. She sighed as she looked around. The black-and-yellow grid wasn't a very inviting environment. She couldn't wait until the holodecks were up and working and she could find a more peaceful environment for the sessions. She took a seat at the far end of the room facing the doorway and waited quietly as people arrived. Some faces were familiar and some were of crew that she had not met yet. Shortly before the group started she saw the amputee she had helped on Rakis - the one she remembered blaming himself for the attack. He entered with the assistance of an NCO she had never met before but who appeared to be a female Catian. As the chronometer on her PADD rolled over to 1100 hrs, she stood up and cleared her throat.::

Ehlanii: Thank you all for coming. My name is Counselor Karynn Ehlanii and I'll be running these grief counseling sessions. If you look around, you'll see that we are all from different departments, different species, and different ranks. We lead different lives, but two things unite us: we serve on the same ship and we have each experienced a great deal of loss. We're here to help each other grieve and to slowly help each other heal. This will not be an easy process for any of us, but its something we all need. We may not be experiencing the exact same emotions, but I want to assure you all that what you're feeling is a natural, normal part of the bereavement process.

::The Haliian paused and looked around the circle, taking great care to look each individual in the eye before continuing on.::

Ehlanii: I think the best thing to do for this first session is to begin talking about who or what we've lost and how we're feeling. I'll start and then we can move around the circle. While I haven't lost anyone that I knew well, I have seen more than enough death in the past several days, and I've shared the pain that many of you have felt. In some ways, it has left me feeling rather overwhelmed.

::Karynn turned to the person on her right::

Ehlanii: Please tell us your name and what brought you here today.

Kipps: I’m Lt Jg Vanessa Kipps and I’m a Tactical Officer with the FOC. Most of my time is spent gazing at a holo projector , its abstract. Down there on the planet was the first time I’ve really faced something real. I thought I had lost a friend down there and even though it turned out ok I can’t stop thinking about what I saw. My way of coping isn’t working…

::Karynn watched as the jaygee turned her gaze to the floor. Something wasn't right. Internally, Karynn was fighting panic. What if she was doing it all wrong? What should she do? She glanced at the former counselor sitting next to her, but then resolved to try to fix the problem on her own. At least at first. Coping. The woman had spoken of coping.::

Ehlanii: This is a safe space here, Lt. Kipps. ::looking to the rest of the group:: Anything said here stays here. ::It had been said in a tone that made it clear that it was an instruction, not a suggestion. She softened her tone and addressed the flight ops officer.:: Why don't you tell us a little bit about about what isn't working for you?

Kipps: I’ve always tired in the past to deal with distressing events by making a joke out of them.

Ehlanii: ::with a soft, reassuring smile:: That isn't unusual. Many people use humor as an escape for uncomfortable situations.

Kipps: ::nodding in agreement.:: But how can I resort to humour in a situation like this? I feel disgusted with myself. It’s disrespectful to those who died and those who were wounded - goodness knows what other people must think about me.

Ehlanii: ::with a nod:: I'm sure it can be a problem in some circumstances. One of the things we'll do today is talk about ways to cope. For now, ::to Kipps:: if its ok with you, we'll move on to the next person.

::Karynn waited for Kipps to respond::

Kipps: Yes of course.

::Karynn shifted her glance to the ACEO. She was pretty sure he knew that he should go next so she simply waited for him to speak. After an awkward moment of silence he began talking.::

Kolk: I, um, I'm Lt. Jackford Kolk, Assistant Chief Engineer, so as you can imagine I've got my work cut out for me in the coming weeks. I didn't see a lot of death on the planet - I was too busy trying to build something that might stop it - and I only know one or two people who were injured. ::looking to Devereaux:: Although, the one I do know is a good friend. When we lost the people on the Flight Deck, I was in the Flight Ops. Center. And when the last pilot died in the wormhole... I was in charge of it.

::The human male looked around the room nervously. Karynn waited for him to continue.::

Kolk: The Counselor has helped me try to face the fact that I didn't do anything wrong, but... I sometimes still feel guilty... even just for not knowing more about the man before he died.

::The Haliian counselor looked at the engineer and smiled her soft, understanding smile. At least she was familiar with this man's case. After all, she had actually had a one-on-one session with him since the flight deck incident.::

Ehlanii: Thank you for sharing, Lieutenant Kolk.

::She turned to the person next to the ACEO and nodded for them to share. The Ullian security officer stood and began to speak.::

Illium: I am Lieutenant junior grade Nek Illium, one of the Security officers. This is my first Starfleet assignment and I joined the Ronin in orbit around Wheeler. I knew going in to Security that death was a possibility. What I didn’t expect was that it wouldn’t be me dying. I never commanded men before the evac, and so many of them died. I’m just angry, angry at the sharks who took them, angry at the men who died for not being better , good enough to stay alive. Mostly, I am angry at myself because I couldn’t stop it. I didn’t get there in time, I didn’t give the right orders to keep them all alive.

Ehlanii: Anger is a very natural reaction. Tell us a little more about yours. What about it bothers you.

Illium: I am used to being angry, it’s been there ever since I can remember, but I am not used to being angry at myself. It’s like it has no target, it wasn’t anyone’s fault. I can’t focus it at anything useful. The sharks are just animals, the ship took more than it could bear, no one made any bad calls that anything other than prescience could have changed. I thought vengeance would make it better but a dead shark doesn’t make the images of my men go away.

Ehlanii: ::nodding:: Revenge rarely does. I believe the emptiness of revenge was a topic of several major Earth-novels, however, the desire for revenge is a common theme among many who have lost loved ones or seen horrific things. Thank you for sharing, Lieutenant Illium. ::She turned to the next person, a female petty officer wearing science blue.:: Would you share your story with us?

::The scientist, Petty Officer Riann Gibbings, told how her boyfriend had been eaten by one of the land sharks. She had come around an escape pod just as he was being pulled under the sand. By the end of her story she was sobbing.::

Gibbings: ::crying:: I started digging, but on some level I knew it was pointless. I think part of me wanted to join him. The other part couldn't believe that he was gone. I still don't believe it sometimes. I keep thinking I'll see him again.

::A sympathetic tear welled up in Karynn's own eye. The woman's story was heartrending. Part of Karynn longed to be supportive and hug the grieving woman. The other part was relieved that she was sitting too far away to make that action feasable. That much raw emotion was more than she could handle at the moment.::

Ehlanii: Sometimes accepting the death of someone we love can be the hardest step to take. We're here to help you through the process.

::Riann sniffed and nodded before looking at the floor. Telling her story had been draining. She just wanted to move on to the next person. The Haliian counselor could tell that the science officer was weary. She smiled a understanding smile and looked at the young Kerelian male in the chair to the female's right. The specialist in soundwaves had lost his best friend when the Flight Deck decompressed. It had only been a few days since the incident and his emotions were still raw. When he finished, Karynn looked at the next chair, occupied by a Catian female.::

Che'tara: Er, hi. I mean hello. I'm sorry, I'm knew to this, not used to so many people listening to what I have to say.

Ehlanii: ::she smiled:: It can be a bit unnerving sometimes. How about starting with your name and where you work.

Che'tara: Oh right. ::giving a nervous wave:: My name's Che'tara and I work in the science department, stellar cartography. I'm half Trill and half Caitian which explains my spotted hair I guess. ::there was a slight pause:: Anyway, I only really came here to help my friend along. ::pauses:: Actually, no, that's not entirely true. On the planet I was in the escape pod that went off course. When we were trying to fix it one of the creatures attacked us and, well, buried the pod.

Ehlanii: That must have been very frightening.

Che'tara: ::nodding:: I was still inside it, along with Lt. Camilla. It... I felt like I'd been buried alive, which I guess I had. The air was running out, there's wasn't any light, I didn't know what had happened to everyone else. The Lt was unconcious so I was alone. I guess the only thing I could think about whether they'd ever find our bodies.

Ehlanii: I know it hasn't been very long but have you experienced any symptoms of claustrophobia since then?

Che'tara: Now that you mention it, I was finding this room a bit crowded.

Ehlanii: ::with an understanding smile:: One thing you can try is reminding yourself that you're safe here, we won't let anything happen to you, and you can leave any time you need to.

Che'tara: I'll try that. Thanks, Counselor.

::The Stellar Cartographer finished and the attention of the room moved on. Later Karynn would notice that the injured man next to her hadn't spoken, but for now she missed it.::

::As person after person shared, the group listened to their stories, and offered the encouragement of a shoulder to lean on and the promise to remember. Some struggled with denial, others with anger, and others were just entering the bargaining stage. There were enlisteds and commissioned officers, each sharing their experiences and finding out they had a lot more in common than many thought. A flight deck engineer was talking about surviving the decompression when the Ullian security guard's combadge chimed.::

Anderson: =/\= Anderson to Lt. Illium. =/\=

::The telepathic security guard coughed.::

Illium: Sorry, don't let me interrupt.

::Karynn nodded as he stepped away from the group. Internally she was highly disappointed. The session was supposed to be protected from interruptions. She looked back at the engineer who had been speaking and indicated that he should continue. As he spoke she kept an ear tuned into the security officer's conversation. When he left without argument she felt a flash of frustration. How could he benefit from a half-attended session? How could others benefit from him if he left early? She was tempted to have a chat with his superior but decided to save any decision about that for later. Shortly after the Ullian left the session, and just as the man from the flight deck finished his tale, the doors to the holodeck swished open again. Everyone turned to face the First Officer as he entered.::

Walker: Ah...I apologize for my lateness...I'll just stand over here.

Ehlanii: Nonsense, Commander. There's a recently vacated seat right there. ::she indicated the seat Illium had just left:: Why don't you have a seat and share what brings you here with the rest of the group?

::It didn't require empathy to see that the human male was suddenly panicked. He had a look in his eyes that she had heard some Terrans at the Academy term "a deer in the headlights."::

Walker: Excuse me?

Ehlanii: We've been going around the circle sharing what brought us here before we start talking about what we can do to start coping with it. Since we've already passed that chair, we'd like you to tell us before we move on to the next person.

Walker: Oh...um...:: Cough:: I...I've been told that...I uh...held myself too responsible for the men who died when I was in command.

Ehlanii: And you haven't exactly been dealing with it appropriately?

::His voice came out a little rough.::

Walker: I, I have...no. I haven't been able to work through it. Their deaths are on my hands... I can push it aside...I can rationalize that there was nothing I could have done. But it all comes back to the fact that I was in command...and people who depended on me...died.

Ehlanii: ::nodding:: It's not uncommon to feel that way. Lt. Kolk has expressed a similar feeling of guilt over the pilot lost as you were coming back through the wormhole.

Walker: I understand, although to be fair, that pilot was my fault as well. Or are you telling me that I'm wrong? That as... someone told me, I should just let it go?

Ehlanii: ::with a slight smile:: We're not here to tell you what you're feeling is wrong. We're here to discuss how we feel and ways to deal with those feelings rather than suppress them. ::motioning to the group:: We are all experiencing very normal reactions to recent circumstances. Some of these emotions are rather powerful. The best thing we can do is acknowledge them and then learn ways to cope so those feelings don't negatively affect our performance in the future. Its also good to know that you aren't alone in your struggle.

Walker: So, what ways do you suggest I...cope...with the deaths of people I am responsible for?

Ehlanii: We're going to talk about different ways to cope in a little while, but I'd like to finish making our way around the circle first. ::she turned to look at the ensign who had been about to speak when the First Officer had entered:: Would you like to continue?

::A sandy-haired male from the ops department began speaking, telling about a friend that he had lost. He was sitting next to the Chief Science Officer, so when he finished with his story, there was a short pause before the human-betazoid hybrid began talking.::

Maria: Did you know I was originally a counsellor myself? I've seen so many problems over the years that when it comes to your turn, it's hard to know how to react. If you feel down you comfort yourself, if you blame yourself you look at the situation logically and rationalize it away. It leaves you blank but feeling like you should be sorry. A pretty unique position.

::The former counselor had a sincere manner of addressing the group.::

Maria: I guess came here really to help people learn how to cope. My way of coping is to atone, or try to say sorry. This time and the last I had nothing to say sorry for, but I found that you can just say sorry anyway, offer them a small piece of time or thought. I sung for them, other people may find a different way to express their emotions, some through dance or training, though wearing yourself to the point of collapse isn't recommended, I've done three day shifts before and seen people try and take the safeties off the holodeck more than once.

::Karynn watched as the CSO turned to her.::

Maria: As I said before, when you're a counsellor it can sometimes be difficult when it comes to your own problems. ::A hint of wry humour crossed her mouth as she repeated Ehlanii's words.:: So what's your name and what brought you here today?

Ehlanii: ::with a slight laugh:: Didn't I do this part already? I'm here to facilitate group sharing and help people get through our recent losses.

Maria: You said these events left you feeling overwhelmed earlier?

Ehlanii: ::with a slow nod:: Especially on the planet, I felt powerless to save the people around me and under-equipped to help the survivors cope. But I did the best that I could and had a few good heart to heart chats with some friends about it all when I had the chance. ::she looked back at the former counselor:: And now I have a unique opportunity to learn from someone who has been in similar shoes. ::she looked back at the group:: And that leads us to our next topic of conversation: what can we do to cope? As a group, we each have different strategies for dealing with our feelings, and we can learn from each other, incorporating good ideas into our own toolbox. I'd like to go around the circle again, answering these two questions: "What have you done to successfully cope?" and "Have you tried anything that hasn't worked so well?" I'd also like to encourage you to ask questions of your fellow group members, if one comes up.

TBC

Lt. JG Karynn Ehlanii
Ship's Counselor
USS Ronin

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Lieutenant J.G. Karynn Ehlanii
Counselor
USS Ronin NCC-34523
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Grieving as a Group Part II