The leaves in Spearfish Canyon were preparing for their autumn transformation, many of the summer’s tourists had returned home, and the college students were beginning to migrate back to the area in anticipation of the impending semester. Jean Gliedt-Peter’s summer included all of this: the leaves, the tourists, the impending school year; but many things were distinctly different in August of 1993.
American Red Cross volunteer
It had been an eventful year for Jean, not only was she a mother, a full-time employee, and a student at Black Hills State University; but her daughter, Cartney, had recently graduated from Spearfish High School and had joined the Air Force. Jean’s family had spent the summer enjoying their time together and preparing for Cartney’s upcoming tour of duty, which would take her all the way to Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Before Cartney left for her military training that August, she reminded her family, “If anything ever happens, and you need to know something, contact the American Red Cross.” During the summer of 1993, this information didn’t mean much to the Peter family, but in a few short months, Cartney’s words would impact the entire course of her mother’s life.
After completing intelligence training in Alabama, Cartney was stationed at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City. One year later, she was deployed for four months of active duty in Haiti. When she had finished her deployment, Cartney returned to Oklahoma City; and during the first week of April 1995, she married her fiancé Shane McRaven. With the excitement of being a newlywed, Cartney’s efficient habits prompted her to go to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 2019.
At the Murrah Building, she had planned on changing her maiden name. Tragically, that Wednesday in April, three domestic terrorists bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 innocent people. Cartney was one of the people who lost her life in the bombing.
Back in South Dakota, Jean and her family received news of the bombing in the early evening of April 19, 2019. In the overwhelming shock of the tragic event, they had never thought about how they would get to the site of the bombing in Oklahoma City. It was during this traumatic time that Jean remembered what Cartney had told her and was reminded of the American Red Cross for a second time.
That very evening, Karen Lloyd, the executive director of the Black Hills Area Chapter of the American Red Cross, contacted the Peter family. Lloyd had been in the military and had heard about the bombing on the news. Now, she was curious about how the Red Cross could help Cartney’s family. The Chapter was able to offer support to the grieving family by purchasing airline tickets to Oklahoma City for Jean and her husband. The initial, immediate care and connection that the Red Cross provided to Jean and her family was vital to their recovery from the hopelessness and grief that they felt at the time.
Upon arrival at the site of the bombing, Jean noticed that there were several organizations providing care and support to family members and friends of the victims. The Red Cross was among these organizations. While the Peter family was in Oklahoma City, the military provided information, food and other care for them. It was during the agonizing 10-day search for Cartney that Jean noticed Red Cross relief efforts providing mental health counseling to those affected by the bombing.
Although she did not participate in the Red Cross counseling in Oklahoma City, Jean decided to seek grief counseling when she returned to South Dakota. The counseling that Jean received when she returned home was provided by a relief fund that was established to ensure the availability of mental health counseling to families after they left Oklahoma City.
Beginning the Healing Process
Today, Cartney’s words and example continue to impact Jean and her family as they continue their journey through the healing process. This impact includes Jean’s transition from being a third-year teaching student to graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in community counseling.
Jean credits this drastic professional change to her first-hand experience with the impact and benefits of trauma counseling. She plans to continue her training and education and hopes to implement programs that provide immediate support and healing to victims of traumatic events such as terrorist attacks and disasters.
Through her work in psychology, research, and counseling, Jean is able to empathize with those she counsels. After having worked with trauma victims for several years, Jean now realizes that her loss led her to work in the mental health field. Ironically, Cartney’s dream was to become a child psychologist.
Cartney’s legacy has also impacted her mother’s involvement in the community. Before the bombing, Jean had never been an active volunteer. She had heard about her daughter’s positive impact in soup kitchens in Oklahoma, orphanages in Port-au-Prince, and her service in the military; but Jean had never had any of these types of experiences of her own. Now, through her work as a volunteer board member with the Red Cross and Cartney’s love of volunteering, Jean has incorporated her professional training with her newfound interest in volunteering.
From the time of the initial trauma of the bombing, Jean’s life has changed dramatically. Her new professional and community interests have enabled her to have a positive impact on the lives of teens who have suffered various types and degrees of trauma and loss.
Jean is excited about the impact that she is able to have through listening, providing hope and encouragement, and by empathizing with those she counsels. Her unique experiences have provided her with an insightful perspective of loss and healing. This perspective enables her to relate to others, to see what others may not see, and to build meaningful and constructive relationships with those she mentors.
Jean’s interests in the American cultural views of grief, healing, and the benefits of psychology and counseling have initiated her recent studies of a revolutionary new field of psychology and counseling called Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing or EMDR.
This unique counseling therapy speeds the healing process by enabling trauma victims to tell a short story about their experiences. The reprocessing technique caters to our social desire for swift trauma healing and necessitates immediate response to trauma victims. Jean believes that EMDR treatments provide an efficient medium for expressing the needs to grieve, connect, and heal. She strongly advises immediate response to those influenced by disaster and hopes to implement her training in mental health relief into responses like the one her family received from the Red Cross immediately after the bombing.
“When you’re in a crisis, you never think that anyone is going to lift you up. The initial moments after trauma and loss are the most important," Jean says. The availability of a support system and a human connection during times of disaster and trauma are vital to human healing abilities. Jean attributes her ability to cope with the loss of her daughter to the immediate response of the Red Cross volunteers who responded to her; a support system of friends, family, classmates, and teachers; and to the military and other organizations who cared for her family.
In reference to the importance of volunteer support, Jean recalls a quote from a fellow Black Hills Area Red Cross volunteer, Jan Albright. During recent flooding in South Dakota, the Black Hills Area Chapter sheltered and provided immediate assistance to families in western South Dakota. When asked about the Red Cross role in the relief efforts, Albright stated, “We’re just here now, and we’re going to be here.” According to Jean, knowing that there is someone who wants to respond, and who will respond, when trauma victims need them is key for trauma recovery.
Nearly 13 years after the death of her daughter, Jean Gliedt-Peter is using insight gained from personal traumatic experiences to make a difference in western South Dakota. She has continued her training in psychology and counseling and plans on employing her knowledge and skills in her work as a mental health disaster response volunteer for the Black Hills Area Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Through her passion, empathy, and experience, Jean continues to fulfill the humanitarian mission of the American Red Cross while remembering the dreams and legacy of a daughter whose life continues to impact the nation she loved, protected, and served.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and counsels victims of disasters; provides nearly half of the nation's blood supply; teaches lifesaving skills; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization – not a government agency – and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its humanitarian mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at www.redcrosschat.org.