Families, Chaplains Of Surfside Disaster Attend Memorial

USCC held a memorial service in Miami, Florida, commemorating the second anniversary of the Surfside building collapse joined by chaplains and surviving family members of the disaster. 

It’s nearly impossible to forget the shocking events of June 24, 2021, when the 12-story Champlain Towers in Surfside, Florida, collapsed in 12 seconds claiming 99 lives. 

The Surfside disaster shook the nation, while permanently changing the lives of surviving family members. First responders were on site for months, including 60 members of the United States Chaplain Corps (USCC).

Remembering those lost

Last month, the USCC held a memorial service in Miami, Florida, commemorating the second anniversary of the Surfside disaster. The occasion functioned as the first gathering of USCC Florida-based chaplains actively involved in tending to surviving family members of the disaster. The overall theme was continued healing through unity and resilience, while tapping into the power of ongoing support. 

A shocking void

Chaplain Mendy Coën, Director General of USCC, led a conversation with family members about the great loss and moving on. 

After two years of intense grieving, the families of the Surfside victims expressed a range of emotions ranging from profound sadness and loss to determination and resilience and the void left by the shocking loss of loved ones. The family members preserve the memories of those lost ensuring their legacy is remembered beyond the tragedy itself.

Family members also spoke about the challenges of the grieving process when faced with countless unanswered questions. Ideally, speaking openly about these challenges will help normalize the complex emotions associated with grief while encouraging others to seek support when needed. 

A constant thread was the importance of community support during the healing journey. The families expressed gratitude for the outpouring of love and kindness they received from neighbors, friends, and strangers. There was also the recurring theme of advocating for improved safety measures, stricter building regulations, and thorough investigations to prevent future tragedies. 

Finding solace in faith

Coën delivered powerful words of support and comfort to the affected families and community at large. Coën focused on the power of unity, resilience, and faith in the face of tragedy. He acknowledged the pain and sorrow felt by the families, reminding them that the entire community continues to share their grief. 

Drawing on his 18 years of experience as a chaplain, Coën emphasized the importance of finding solace and hope in faith and spirituality. He encouraged the families to lean on their beliefs and trust in a higher power to guide them through their darkest moments. Coën acknowledged the tireless efforts of the rescue workers, first responders, and volunteers who worked diligently in the aftermath of the disaster. Self-care for those first responders was also stressed. By prioritizing mental, emotional, and physical well-being, chaplains and other first responders ensure they have the strength and resilience to extend help to others.

Healing through acts of service 

Coën said that by actively engaging in acts of service and kindness, individuals can experience a transformative healing process and renewed sense of purpose. “No act of kindness is too small. Even the simplest gesture of empathy can make a difference in someone’s healing process,” Coën said. Some ideas he offered were volunteering at relief centers to provide meals, transportation, or emotional support, while helping others rebuild their lives. Coën ‘s heartfelt plea resonated with the audience, inspiring many to step forward and offer support.

Coën also spoke about the USCC’s dedicated force of over 600 chaplains of varied backgrounds and religious traditions nationwide. He highlighted the significant role of chaplains in providing spiritual and emotional support in times of crisis and shared inspiring stories of families who despite personal loss, became chaplains in the hope of helping others.

Honoring a lifelong legacy

During the event, a memorial was held for Chaplain Pinchas Weberman, who for over 50 years dedicated his life to promoting and developing chaplaincy in the State of Florida. 

His sons, Chaplains Dovid and Shaya Weberman, together with Officer Jorge Ghitis from the Miami-Dade Police Department, and Eran Hazan and Joe Zevulomi from Yedidim, a volunteer-based organization, received the USCC Chaplain Honorary Award for their unwavering help to the Miami community during the Surfside disaster.

Transforming grief to healing

In his closing remarks, Coën lauded the family members who became chaplains. “Having walked the path of grief and loss themselves, they can empathize with the pain and struggles of others who have experienced similar tragedies, offering not only spiritual guidance but a deep understanding of the healing process.” Through their personal experiences “they provide a comforting presence and a source of hope for those they serve.” 

To learn more about the USCC, please visit www.uschaplains.us