Uwe Anspach/AP
November 18, 2015 11:00 AM

What do you tell an 8-year-old girl who has just lost her mother to a terrorist attack?

That was the question facing Jean-Pierre Vouche, a psychologist who spent the hours after Friday’s attacks in Paris providing counseling to victims and their families.

Among those he spoke with was 8-year-old Tess Reibenberg, whose mother was killed at La Belle Equipe, the family’s restaurant on the Rue de Charonne and one of multiple locations where Islamic State terrorists struck.

The next night, “Tess said to me, ‘Is it true that Mommy is dead?’ I said, ‘Yes, ma chérie,’ ” Vouche, 65, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.

“She asked, ‘Is there an antidote against death?’ I said, ‘No, darling. But we can communicate with her. You choose a star you like, and that’s your mother. We can talk to her that way.’ ”

Others told PEOPLE of the moments of grace they witnessed amid the chaos and horror.

Fleeing a panicked street scene, Irish professor Paddy Gray, 58, was one of a half dozen strangers who were welcomed into the local home of Robert Normand.

“He protected us and kept an eye on us until we were all safe,” recalls Gray. “I had never met him in my life. He just brought us all in. It was an amazing act of kindness.”

But for those who witnessed the violence and death firsthand, the pain is profound.

“The victims I tended to are destroyed,” says Vouche. “They don’t want to believe what’s happened. They call the cell phones of their friends and loved ones and the phones ring in the morgue.”

Reporting by NINA BIDDLE and PHILIP BOUCHER

For much more on the survivors and victims of the Paris terrorist attacks, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE

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