Love on the Hudson: A Story of Resilience after Trauma

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They were strangers on January 15, 2009 when US Airways flight 1549 hit a flock of geese and crash-landed on the Hudson River in New York. Today, Laura Zych, 31, and Ben Bostic, 39, are in love.

A disaster or extreme situation such as the one that occurred that day often brings a flood of emotions after the event. How people deal with these emotional reactions may affect their recovery afterwards. Some people may experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, with grief, desperation and depression. But some people, like Laura and Ben, find resilience.

Trauma happens when people have no control over their environments. Resilience occurs when people understand that they may not be able to change their circumstances, but they can control how they respond to the situation. According to Dr. Martha Kent, neuropsychologist at the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix, AZ, people who respond to their environment with approach and engagement, rather than defense or withdrawal, can avoid the depression and negative emotions that occur with PTSD.

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“People who believe they are responsible for their own lives are more resilient,” she says. “You have all these environmental factors coming into your brain. Whether they result in a negative or positive response depends on how your brain filters them. It’s how you interpret things and how you translate things. You have to exercise the ability to let go of things you can’t control, and manage the things you can, and savor the best parts.”

Ben, who was in New York for a quick business trip, now says “The first time people meet you, they want to hear the sensational part (of the crash). I met this wonderful girl because of what we went through that day.” Laura agrees, saying, “We don’t dwell on what happened to us in the crash. It’s more so on the experiences and lessons that we’ve taken from it. All the priorities were reset after January 15.”

Others involved in the crash also bonded together. Some became Facebook friends. Several formed support groups. One of the best things people can do after a difficult situation is to pull together and ask for help. Help from others may make the critical difference between coping and prolonged suffering. Ben and Laura have both sought counseling and take anti-anxiety medication on flights. But they choose to focus on the positive.

"We kind of pick each other up if we start to slip. What’s better than smiling and laughing and love," Ben says. "Live, laugh, love and dance like tomorrow's not guaranteed."

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