• disaster;
  • long-term care;
  • suffering;
  • communion;
  • existential health;
  • relationship;
  • understanding of life;
  • hermeneutics;
  • tsunami

Scand J Caring Sci; 2012; 26; 537–544

Significance of close relationships after the tsunami disaster in connection with existential health – a qualitative interpretive study

Background:  In an existential health perspective, the potential for recovery and development through natural life circumstances provides a factor to be taken into account. Earlier research on disaster-stricken people indicates that people create their own ways of recovering and that natural caring encounters (with family or friends) imply important health factors.

Aim:  The aim of the study is to acquire an in-depth understanding of the significance of natural close relationships for survivors of the tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia in connection with the development of existential health and understanding of life in a long-term perspective. The sample consists of 19 persons afflicted by the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia, both Swedish tourists and relatives at home. Data were collected from interviews recurring five times during 2006.

Findings:  What is evidently seen is how the ontological aspects are expressed in data in relation to the existential and relational aspects. In concrete terms, this is understood when survivors say that their lives are completely changed (an ontological turn in their understanding of life). A change also occurs in the way they relate to others (a concrete existential turn), for example, in their families. When the findings on communion as an utterance of interdependence were read comprehensively, it was seen that human encounters in the aftermath of a disaster are not only about relationships but inherently affect people’s entire understanding of life both ontologically and existentially. Relationships with others and communion become a way of understanding or defining life. To conclude, in line with the aim of the study, the data suggest that relationships and communion with other people helped the survivors of the tsunami to discover a new understanding of life. It is also clear that natural encounters have had great importance for progress in existential health.