It is hard to believe it has been one year since the horrible attack at Pulse Nightclub, devastating our Central Florida family. While we have made a full trip around the sun, the pain for many is just as strong, the wounds are still raw, and the healing seems agonizingly slow. Our team wanted to share personal thoughts, experiences, and healing journeys over the past year- our “Pulse Stories.”
I woke up that morning to go for a run before it got too hot. When I turned on the TV to get the morning weather report, every station was cutting in with breaking news. At first, my mind wouldn’t register that it happened and that it happened a mile from my home. Then it hit me, we needed to respond.
As I grabbed for my phone, the calls were already coming in from our team members to tell me that they were on their way. Although I’m an administrator and not trained to deal directly with victims like the rest of our staff, I wanted to respond to support our team and offer any help that I could offer. The anguish, pain, agony, and sorrow of family members desperate for news about the status of their love ones wa s something that I will never forget.
Over the course of the hours and the days that followed, I watched as our team did their best to provide comfort, support, and assistance to the grief stricken. As the vicarious trauma associated with doing this kind of work mounted among our team members, I felt helpless because there was nothing I could do or say to make their jobs any easier at that moment.
Now looking back, I recognize that what helped me through that time was how our Orlando community seemed to immediately embrace unity, inclusion, tolerance, and acceptance as never before. For this, I have a restored faith in humanity. I couldn’t be more proud to be a member of our community. Further, I am honored to be a part of the VSC team and I am committed to helping to provide healing services to those impacted for as long as it takes.
Upon hearing the word, my heartbeat quickens or slams as thick as a drowning drum, depending on the moment. My first time visiting Pulse was a surprise from a close friend of mine. We stopped and got shakes at Freddy’s, then headed down Orange Avenue. I didn’t even know what part of town I was in. When I saw the ethereal, haunting glow of the Pulse sign I lost touch with my reality as I knew it. Why was I here? How did I get here? My friend took two maroon roses out of his trunk, handing me one as it rustled and bristled on my reddening skin. I looked upon the names, the art, the signatures from around the world, yet, I didn’t feel connected. It was as if there was a river of energy and hope, but I couldn’t tap into it. I was standing on the other side of the glass. I laid my rose. I laid my spirit.
Now, a year later, I can’t say much has changed except my voracious belief in hope. We all have a path to healing and we’re just trying to light our own candles along the way. I’ve learned that no path to healing is wrong, it’s just ours. I’ve long since forgotten the idea that we are on separate paths. We are all traveling the same road in different shoes, sometimes we intertwine and sometimes we spend time searching in solace. I always consider how interesting it is that the club was named Pulse. I always took it to mean energy, movement – that feeling when everything at once is coursing through you. Now, I realize why. We must bring energy to the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights, we must always remain moving forward, and we must always, always, ALWAYS keep compassion and hope coursing through our veins as one community, connected simply by time and space.
Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.
“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”
― Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
I wasn’t in Orlando when the Pulse tragedy occurred. From hundreds of vacation miles away, I was jarred by calls, texts, messages, and social media posts rolling in one by one. I felt helpless. It was all so surreal. We continued our planned hike that day, but I felt more pensive than unplugged. Meditating and sending love from afar just didn’t feel like enough. I returned to Orlando and entered a thick tension that felt foreign to me in myriad ways. I saw my colleagues exhausted and spent; I felt overwhelmed stepping into the new reality of Orlando’s tears, anger, and shock. My helplessness only amplified as I struggled to find ways to offer support to all those wonderful people whose hearts plummeted, both on a personal and a professional level. At that point, many people were numb. I had reasoned that I was someone stepping in with a fresh perspective, someone who could bring a different – albeit shaky at times – kind of strength. Not everyone was ready, or even wanted, such a thing.
It has taken a while for people to ground themselves past the crisis. Many have not yet. And so many are somewhere in the middle, still flushing with fear and tears particularly as the Pulse anniversary approaches. Today, I still feel a yearning for answers to questions we never wanted to ask. But more importantly, what I feel a part of is the connection within our community. We are united by more than hashtags: we are united in our resilience, our caring, and our looking out for one another. The basic human connection we are all part of and we are all wired for has us holding space for mourning and fear; for pinning rainbow ribbons on our shirts; for making sure we are all moving through this together. Because we are. It was so clear to me watching the community rally together so quickly way off in my vacation distance one year ago. And it is even more clear to me today as I see us all embrace each other to find a way to lift up and heal. Together.
We often hear about mass shootings that occur around the world but never do we imagine that it would happen in our own city. At the time of the Pulse shooting, I was working for a mental health agency that primarily serviced the LGBT community and was located 5 minutes from Pulse nightclub. When I received news of the shooting, I went through a myriad of emotions that I couldn’t understand but didn’t have time to process. As a therapist, I needed to be there for my clients. Thankfully none of my clients were at Pulse the night of the shooting, but many had lost friends that night and were experiencing severe secondary trauma and grief.
On top of being there to support my clients, I also volunteered to provide crisis counseling at the Camping World Stadium for the survivors and families of the deceased. As therapists we tend to always put the needs of others before our own; sometimes at our own detriment. I was so engulfed in being there for those directly impacted by the shooting that I neglected my own emotions and the vicarious trauma I was experiencing. There were moments when I would feel fine and then moments when I would randomly break down crying. But still, there was no time to focus on me when I had people I needed to be there for.
As I look back a year later, I realize that I have not fully processed this experience for myself. I decided with the anniversary, it is important that I participate in the remembrance events and allow myself to feel for the first time. I am grateful for the survivors who allowed me to be in their corner during their time of need, but now it’s time that I tend to my own wounds. I don’t know what this experience will be like or what emotions will rise to the surface, but I’m looking forward to beginning my own journey of healing.
Pulse will always be on my mind. I will always remember my initial shock and anxiety — someone I knew had been hurt or killed. I remember browsing Facebook and watching the news to find out what had happened and how everyone I knew was coping. Then, I got the phone call from VSC’s Program Director asking if I was available to respond and provide support to those families who were directly affected.
It wasn’t even a thought; I was on my way to ORMC before I even realized exactly what I was doing.
I arrived at the hospital and the stress was palpable. Not only was the stress palpable, but the mix of emotion and energy was huge. The strength of the families who were present is what stands out most for me. For hours, I was there at the hospital with the families waiting for answers. I got to witness how close and supportive all of the families and friends were for each other. I spoke with several family members individually and was astounded at the strength and positivity they showed.
Following that day, it never ceased to amaze me how strong the family members of the victims were. Not only that, but the strength shown by the LGBT community, the Latin community, and Orlando as a whole was commendable. I am thankful for all of my friends and peers in the LGBT community, the Latin community, the mental health community, and the City of Orlando.
I am so proud to say I am a part of Orlando.
I remember my fiancé woke me up and told me “Give me hug. Something bad happened.” I turned on the TV and there was chaos. I went outside. There were helicopters, police sirens, and people walking in the streets. I was in shock. I did not speak for hours. I was just scrolling down social media and changing channels on the TV. The time was passing and more news kept coming out. My heart was shrinking, my head was empty, and I couldn’t believe what was happening. Every time a heard a Latinos last name on the victims list, my heartbeat stopped and I died a little. Those days were full of agony and sorrow.
You know, we, the puertorrican people, are all around the globe. I will always feel a connection with other puertorricans – always. I will always have a friend in common with another Boricua. Even when I did not know the victims personally, my friends were friends with several of the victims. I naturally assumed their loss as my own. All the souls we lost that day devastated me.
My fiancé and I went outside that night. The air was so heavy and hard to breath. It was hard to walk or talk. But, I saw a group of people singing and playing guitars. We went to them and began holding their hands. At first I wasn’t able to sing and could only cry. But, after a couple of minutes, I felt the peace. I felt love.
Since that moment, I feel love everywhere.
One person attempted to spread hate, but we stood against it and are choosing to only spread love.
One person took the life of 49 beautiful human beings, but hundreds met and became family.
One person attempted to plant the seed of fear, but hope blooms.
Emotional recovery in a long ride. I cried when I would pass the hospital and saw all of the Puerto Rico flags. I stopped almost every day there, and every time, someone would smile to me, talked to me, or hug me. Today, I smile because I will always feel love. One love. No color love, no gender love, no nationality love. Just LOVE.