Remembering survivors’ stories in wake of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev verdict

As news broke about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s guilty verdict on Wednesday, we couldn’t help but think about the survivors of the Boston bombings.

The Boston Globe has done an especially good job covering what it’s been like for survivors to watch the trial. Last month, the Globe’s Jenna Russell wrote a feature on survivor Heather Abbott, who lost her leg in the bombing. Her story showed how far Abbott has come since the tragedy, and how difficult some parts of the journey have been.

“The bombing had changed everything, but not just in the ways she expected,” Russell writes. “Afterward, she started counseling other amputees, to give them hope by sharing her recovery. She agreed to give a talk about her experience, and that led to speeches all over the country. She spoke of accepting her loss, accepting that she couldn’t change it, and told how that had allowed her to move forward.”

Going to Tsarnaev’s trial, seeing him in person, and sitting beside others who had been directly affected by the bombings was a particularly difficult experience for Abbott. “Every story echoed her own, and brought back the fear, smoke, and pain,” Russell writes. “The people she felt closest to were here, waiting their turn to testify, doing something impossibly painful and brave. She wanted them to look out from the stand and see her face. She knew that she belonged here, and she would not look away.”

Russell has spent the past two years writing about the bombings and their aftermath. Earlier this year, she worked on a powerful piece about how other survivors braced themselves for the trial. She has also co-authored a book, “Long Mile Home,” about Boston’s recovery.

Her stories fall into the Restorative Narrative genre — a term ivoh coined to describe stories that show how people and communities are rebuilding and recovering in a tragedy’s aftermath. These stories acknowledge the tragedy at hand, but they move the storyline from what happened to what’s possible. They are strength-based narratives that explore a community’s or a person’s journey through the murky middle — the space in between tragedy and recovery.

Typically, the media report on a tragedy and its immediate aftermath. As the weeks and months pass, they move on to other stories. If they never revisit the tragedy, never follow up with their sources, they can miss out on opportunities to tell stories of strength, resilience, and renewal that often emerge in the wake of tragedy.

By telling Restorative Narratives, media practitioners can take a more holistic and balanced approach to their coverage. Restorative Narratives are often untold stories, and they acknowledge that a community’s story doesn’t end when the crime tape is removed or when an arrest is made.

We’re continuing to deepen our inquiry into this genre with the help of our Restorative Narrative Fellows and Restorative Narrative research that the University of Oregon’s Nicole Dahmen will be doing later this year. If you’re interested in learning more, please join us at our Restorative Narrative Summit this June in upstate New York.


Related: Restorative Narratives have the potential to impact media coverage & communities


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