Monday, July 29, 2013

Motivational Mondays - What to do When Disaster Hits, When the World Literally Crashes Around you

Today's Motivational Mondays post is completely different then any I have ever shared.  It's not from any type of human loss perspective really, Melissa is not a grief momma in the sense of the others you have met here on my blog and she only knows about TTTS because of me. But Melissa has experienced a loss of catastrophic proportions, a natural disaster that most of us can not relate to, that most of us can only dream of... in the scary nightmare kind of way.  Melissa has been my friend for...welll years.  She's actually a good friend of my next youngest brother and I got to know her through him.  She, like me, enjoys writing, enjoys speaking what's in her heart or under her skin in an electronic format and sharing it with the world. We've shared a few things the other has written over the years but I am almost certain that she has supported me, encouraged me, shown me more empathy and sympathy then I ever have with her.  She helped me work through some tough realities of how some people in my life viewed my reaction to all my twins had been through, all we had been through and what that had motivated us to do.  She was so encouraging then, so supportive.  She even wrote about me on her blog
Melissa's inspirational journey began on a Sunday in August of 2011.  I remember that day well, that weekend well. We'd been up at my parents all weekend for a family reunion.  It was a miserably cold and wet August weekend and I think that might have been why the events that occurred that day were such a shock to so many. On that fateful day a large scale tornado hit a community that is about 45 minutes from where I live.  A beautiful town on the coast of Lake Huron, a town full of heritage buildings and beautiful big old trees.  I am not going to speak much more about what happened that day but leave that up to Melissa, to her skills as a writer.  

Tornado: Sunday August 21 - Part 1.

Sunday August 21...

I spent the morning making chocolate chip cookie dough truffles for my cousin's upcoming wedding. I had to go to the grocery store late morning to get more supplies, including a huuuuuuuge bag of flour. It was so big it wouldn't fit in my pantry, so I just left it on the kitchen table for the afternoon. Jeff went to the firehall to wash and clean out his truck, and was annoyed when it later rained in the early afternoon, leaving fresh water spots all over it. I told him he was way too attached to that truck. But that I loved it too. I made a mental note to order chrome door handles for it for his upcoming birthday.

My 3 year old son napped for only about an hour, awake by 2ish. The days are so long when he takes short naps, or no nap at all. But he is 3 1/2. He played on and off while I kept baking, finishing 230 of the required 450 truffles that afternoon. I wrapped them up tight and made room in my freezers for them. Jeff decided to barbecue steaks for supper. As it had been raining on and and off all day he checked the weather radar online at 3:30 pm to make sure he wasn't going to get wet out at the BBQ.

The radar was clear.
He unwrapped the steaks and put them on a plate on the counter to thaw a bit.

Makenna and Jack were making playdoh cookies in our living room. I was in the basement sorting through clothes that were too small for the kids and cleaning up the toyroom. I had filled an industrial sized garbage bag of clothes for a friend's son. I asked Jeff to put the bag in the van for me and he took it out to the front porch, assuring me he would walk it the extra 10 feet to the van later. Jack came downstairs to where I was and kept asking and asking and asking if he could play Wii. I was putting the Little People away and Jeff said it was up to me whether or not Jack played any more Wii that day.

He is only 3 after all.

I sighed and said I didn't care, that I was tired of listening to him whine. Jeff pulled the futon away from the wall in our basement, looking for a lost DS game, before setting up the wii. As he was about to turn it on, the power went out. I thought that was odd, as it wasn't even storming, and figured maybe there had been a car accident, and expected Jeff's fire pager to go off at any moment. Jack started crying because all he wanted to do was play that damned Wii, was finally given permission, and now he couldn't.

I sighed, sat down on the basement steps and gave him a hug, telling him we would just have to wait till the power came back on. Jeff walked upstairs. I looked at the clock...almost 4pm. Still a couple hours to kill before supper and bath time.

The next thing I knew, not even 3o seconds later, Makenna was barreling down the basement stairs towards me where I was still sitting, Jeff right behind her. Out of nowhere, we could hear heavy rains and hail outside. I looked at Jeff and he said "go into the storage room".

As he said that, suddenly the rain and wind got very very very loud in our basement. It was pounding on the outside walls. It was so very loud. Jack started screaming, Makenna started panicking. I crouched down in the stairwell with Jack in my arms, Makenna between Jeff and I and I said "don't move". I looked across the room to our small basement window. All I saw outside of it was white. It was like there was a snowsquall outside - I couldn't see a thing. Above us I could hear things snapping and cracking and hear glass breaking.

The noise was deafening. All of this, we later learned, spanned 10-12 seconds. I remember every single one.

Then it stopped as quickly as it came. All was quiet again. Jeff's pager went off and I cursed it. Figuring this "thunderstorm" had caused a car accident or downed a hydro line. He ran the rest of the way upstairs out of the basement to go outside and before the rest of us could even follow he yelled at us to stay where we were. Of course I didn't listen.

The basement was absolutely fine, we were fine, it was over so quick, how bad could it be? Stupid thunderstorm scaring my kids.

I peeked around the top of the basement stairs into our front hall and came face to face with the front door to our house, the storm door, laying right there on the floor infront of me, as well as leaves, dirt, stones and just...debris. I could see the screen door outside on the porch. It was still pouring rain. I saw that our living room window was smashed.

Jeff came running back into the house, his pager still wailing, yelling at me to take the kids back into the basement. His face was white and his eyes were wild...he was looking everywhere but at me. I couldn't even speak. I grabbed my cell phone off the couch, looked at him and said "Go! We're fine!"...(or something like that) and he ran back outside.

I took the kids back down to the laundry room in the basement, sat on the concrete floor with Jack in my lap and Makenna beside me and told them I wanted to call Grandma Tam. They asked why and I told them I thought maybe they were going to go there for a visit.

Of course my phone wouldn't work. I figured the only way it would work was if we went outside. I carried Jack up the stairs, Makenna at my side holding my free hand, and we stepped into our front hallway, over the storm door, and walked out onto the front porch.

Well Holy Shit.

Our front porch was gone. There was a tree on our truck. My van had moved and turned sideways, the nose of it wedged into what was left of our garage. There was stuff everywhere...trees everywhere...I could barely see across the street. I was in complete shock and awe. Makenna asked what was going on and I said I had no idea.

Jack started screaming. and screaming and screaming and screaming, snapping Makenna and I back to reality. I stepped back into the house to calm him down and we were swarmed by neighbours who had heard the screaming. I assured them Jack was fine and we all checked in with eachother. My one neighbour had a shard of glass in his calf. Another from up the street had cuts all over his face. everyone looked dazed.

My husband surfaced again, in total panic mode, unable to get to the firehall, knowing he needed to get there, not sure what they were dealing with. He kept saying "Something bad has happened". He had put his workboots on at some point and was running around with them untied, sockless, and in shorts and a T shirt. A neighbour across the road yelled at Jeff to take his car and just like that, he was gone. Our neighbours insisted our kids come down into their basement so we ran across the yard and into their house. We were soaked. I left them in the basement, told them I was going to get them some dry clothes, and would be right back.

I stepped out onto their front stoop, shut the door behind me (after noticing they still had a door) and stumbled out into the street.

Pure and utter devastation. Everywhere I looked.
Then I heard the sirens. The sirens I would continue to hear in my head for the next 4 days.

what the hell kind of thunderstorm was that? 
At this point in my life I had not even really remembered that Melissa and Jeff and their kids would be in the middle of this chaos.  I had gotten an email from my aunt telling us that our 101 year old great aunt who lived in Goderich at the time had slept through it all and was fine.  And had spoken to my mom and learned that my grandmother and her husband had been evacuated due to the gas leakages.
I happened to pull up facebook that next morning and saw Melissa's heartwrenching posts about her house being destroyed and became obsessive in my 'watch ' of her and her family.  I think I checked her facebook status every hour those first few days.  I am going to share another segment of this day, this  'craziness' with you and then post a link where you can read the rest of this very captivating story. The reason I am choosing not to share this all in order is two's a wonderfully written, but long and is likely too much to share here in this format, it won't do it justice.  The second reason I am choosing to share this part is what unfolds at the end of this post of Melissa's... it shows just how amazing this friend of mine is, how inspirational she is to me for what she put aside in order to help others....

Sunday, August 21: Part 3

To read Part 1, click here.
To read Part 2, click here.

I had to pee.
It was just after 6pm, 2 hours had passed since the tornado hit, and now that I was alone and could actually focus on myself, that was the first thing I felt. The immediate need to use the bathroom.

All of the stores and businesses were abandoned and locked. I was not going behind a store like I had forced my kids to do. I couldn't go back home to use my bathroom, I couldn't physically get there.

I realized I wasn't far from my friend Sheila's house and set off towards it, hoping she was home. I made it pretty far down the street before I realized it wasn't her street I was even on. As I was walking, people were raking up their lawns, bringing the small tree branches to the curbs and commenting that they "had just about got it all". They were sweating, wiping their brows. I wanted to scream at them.

Did they really have no idea what was happening in their own town just a few blocks away? That people had 100 year old trees through their homes? That people's homes had been blown apart and spread all over the neighbourhoods? That I wasn't allowed anywhere near my own home because of a major gas leak, and even if I was, I would never find a rake? Were they really that concerned about some fucking twigs on their lawns???

But I kept walking. I finally got on the right street and made it to Sheila's house. Her youngest daughter met me at the door.

"Is your mom home?"
"No". Then her oldest son joined her at the door. All of her 4 kids recognized me, but her two boys don't know me all that well.
"Is your dad home?"
"Do you know where they are?"
"Okay, well I need to use your bathroom".

Her oldest son was unsure about this, but I walked in anyway. When I left I told him to tell his mom I had been there. As I walked down the steps I saw Sheila across the road looking at me. I walked over and told her I used her bathroom and she laughed. We talked for a minute and I said something about my house and cars and she just looked at me blankly. I then explained what was going on on my block, which was only about 4 blocks away from hers. She had no idea and couldn't believe it. My phone was almost dead and I was panicking because that was my lifeline at that moment, my way to keep in touch with Jeff and Mike, my mom and everyone else. Jeff had given me his phone when I last saw him and told him mine was almost dead. He said I could use his and if I needed to get in touch with him I could text my brother's phone and he would be able to communicate with me that way. Sheila told me her neighbours had a generator going and I could plug my phone in at their place to charge it. She ran over to her house to get her husband's charger, as I obviously didn't have mine.

Sheila's neighbour is the older sister of a guy I was friends with all through highschool. We chatted about that for a few minutes while plugging my phone in and then Sheila and I went back outside. She told me to come over to her place but I said I needed to go find Jeff. I could not just sit. I needed to be moving. She said she was likely going to take her kids out of town, so if, when I came back for my phone she was gone, I was to just go over to the neighbour's and ask for it.

She repeated about a zillion offers of help and asked what she could do and I said I had no idea at that point, I just wanted to talk to Jeff and see what the story was. Find out when this was all going to calm down.

I walked away from her and headed off into the jungle that was now my side of town to try to find my husband, hoping he was still at the corner of St David and Cambria Streets. Of course he wasn't.

I had a lot of time to think about and process what was going on around me as I was looking for Jeff.

Makenna's family birthday party was next weekend. I had insisted on having it at our home. While sitting by the firetruck she had mentioned that, saying she hoped everything was better by Saturday for the party. She had planned all these games for it. But that it was almost a week away so she was sure everything would be better by then. How was I supposed to tell her there was no way that party would be held at our house? We would have to have it at Jeff's parents farm. The kid had no house, no cars, I had no idea if she even had a school at that point... the least she deserved was a birthday party. 

Crap. Her birthday presents were all in the house. I would have to get them out. All her school stuff and new clothes were in there too. I had to get those too. How was I going to do that with all those Cops blocking access? 

Someone had said something about an Emergency Centre being set up at the Knights of Columbus Hall across town. I bet Victim Services will be there. I am a Crisis Responder for Victim Services. I should go there. They are going to need everyone they have. This would be my first official call. They always said you would remember your first call. 

Yep, think I'll remember this one. 

Well, I need my Victim Services backpack and ID. Its in my van. How am I supposed to get that?

I headed back towards my street. There were OPP blocking it, refusing to allow anyone near it, whether they lived there or not. So I walked. I walked and walked and walked around our neighbourhood. I took in the devastation. I had grabbed my camera when I was in the house one of the other times and started taking pictures with it. Mostly I just walked in big circles around the same area, taking it all in. I talked with people I knew, all of them stunned by what we all saw. I kept saying "What do we do? What can we even do?" referring to our house, our cars, our street, our town. Where do you start??

As I walked back by Volvo, a major employer in our town that had shut down a few years earlier, I was stupified by the damage to its building. The car wash across the road was leveled. I couldn't believe it. Out of nowhere my friends Chris and Jen drove by, noticed me and circled back. When I told them what had happened to our street Jen's eyes filled with tears. She couldn't believe our house was as bad as I said it was, and that there were worse ones just steps away from it. I was on and off Jeff's phone at that point, talked to them for a couple minutes and kept walking. At one point I checked Jeff's texts and saw that he had been texting his brother, but the conversation had halted when he had given me his phone. I called Kevin and my voice shook as I was talking to him. I don't know what Jeff had told him, but Kevin had no idea things were as bad as they were. He said he knew our street was in bad shape and that our vehicles were wrecked, but that he had no idea about our house.

Of course not, I realized. Jeff wouldn't have told him that, because Jeff didn't even know that.

So I tried to explain to Kevin what we were dealing with. I knew we could never live in that house again. I knew that house needed to come down. I didn't know where we were going to sleep that night, or any night after that...if we even got to sleep tonight at all. I had texts and messages from 20 different people saying we could stay with them, but I had no idea when the fire department would get a break, and if we would even end up at the same place. I had no vehicle to get anywhere.

Kevin was stunned. I was frustrated and snapped "Hello?? Have you not been on facebook?!"

He replied that no he hadn't because they had lost their internet connection during the thunderstorm. They live about 40 mins away. So I told him he needed to call his parents and tell them. They were enjoying a weekend away in the Sauble Beach area. He wasn't sure it was necessary to tell them and I assured him it absolutely was. I told him to also call his sister who lives in Kitchener. I think he started to understand the urgency and panic in my voice and then realized that I was alone and Jeff was dealing with something huge. Kevin used to be a firefighter himself. He asked me if I needed him to come up. I told him he wouldn't get into town anyway so there was no use even trying. He asked me a few more times, I assured him I would be fine and he had me promise to call him if I needed anything. He promised he would call his parents and their sister.

Not long after that, Jeff's mom called Jeff's phone, which I still had. Kevin had notified them. They were prepared to leave Sauble Beach and come to help. I told them not to, there was nothing they could do and no way they could get into town. I told her we would need help in the coming days, but there was no use today. I tried to explain what was happening and assured her we were fine. I insisted we were still having the birthday party, at their place, and that was all I knew at that point.

At this point I was on my way back to Sheila's to get my own phone. Jeff texted me that he and Mike were at the major intersection in town, which we locals call "The 5 Points". I told him I was going to get my phone and would be there in a bit. Sheila's van was gone. I knew she had taken her kids to her family in the next town and went over to her neighbour's to retrieve my phone.
There were dozens of messages, texts and facebook comments on it. I started to answer them as I walked. Jeff's sister had BBMd me..."Is your house really destroyed?"

Arrrrrgggghhhhh! Yesssssss!!!!! Yes it was! 

Clearly, people had no idea what we were dealing with. That would soon change though. The air was filled with the wail of sirens everywhere I went and now there were airplanes and helicopters in the air every time I looked up. The media were moving in.
The "5 points" are a block from my house, the next street over from mine. I was able to enter my street the back way and wove my way down it, climbing over trees, downed fences and over all other kinds of fallen debris covering the sidewalk. I followed the path of a guy infront of me who was also trying to get down the same street. He saw me but we never spoke. I BBMd Jeff to tell him what I was doing and he called the cell phone so he could yell at me directly. I told him I needed some stuff and was fine, to focus on what he was supposed to be doing. My brother got on the phone and told me his wife, my sister in law, was at The Knights of Columbus Hall. She is a Crisis Responder for Victim Services too. I told him I planned to go there too and would see them in a couple minutes. I crawled through the van and got my Victim Services Backpack. I grabbed Jeff's wallet and keys out of his truck, stood the storm door up against the doorway to our house again and went and hid my purse in the basement. I came back outside,put my Victim Services ID on, crossed the street and walked through the backyard of Paint Plus and the Union Burger Parking lot towards the 5 Points. A calm came over me as I knew I had a purpose now. It was time to go to work as a Crisis Responder. To put my training into action. I felt useful. I could see my husband and brother looking at me, waving their arms and yelling at me as I got closer.

"I needed to get my backpack" I said simply.
"You're the victim here!" My husband laughed.
"Well, what else am I supposed to do?" I retorted.

He asked me how I was going to get to the Knights of Columbus Hall across town and I said I was going to walk. He didn't like that either but wasn't able to drive me so I didn't have much of a choice. I told him I had been walking all day and was fine. I gave him back his phone and was on my way.

I walked about a block and came to another GFD firetruck that looked like it was about to leave. I made eye contact with Darren, another Captain on the Dept and the father of one of Makenna's closest friends. It was the first time I had seen him. He asked me what I was doing and when I told him he told me to get in the truck.

Ordered me, really.

When I climbed into the truck and sat down, Darren looked at me and said "You're living with us".
I opened my mouth to say something and he said "I've seen your house, already talked to Jeff, I don't want to hear it, you're living with me. As of right now".

I closed my mouth.

I sat in the front seat of the truck between Darren and another fireman as they returned to the hall. He told me that when the tornado initially hit, he, his wife and daughter had been in Stratford. When they were notified and rushed back, he first had went to a fire in Benmiller, a result of the tornado touching down there too. I didn't even know that initially 7 of the firemen had to go to Benmiller, that they couldn't even respond the the town's devastation. I asked him who was "In Command".

The Fire Dept has a hierarchy of command. It starts with the Chief, then the Deputy Chief, then the Captains. Our department has 4 captains, Jeff and Darren being 2 of them. Those 6 people are "officers". Whichever officer is on scene first is "in command"...essentially in charge of the whole show.

Darren informed me that both the chief and deputy chief were out of town, he had been in Stratford and that as far as he knew, Jeff and one other Captain were the only officers in town when the pagers went off. The other Captain, John Dobie, was currently the officer in command.

In command of the aftermath of a tornado. A big tornado. A first for our town, our EMS personelle. He had set up his command post at The 5 Points and had big boards sitting on the ground leaning against the truck with writing, maps and other stuff all over them. Darren said he was doing really well.

I could not imagine what my husband would have been like if he had of been able to get to the hall first and had of been in command. Our chief had been notified and was on his way back from Michigan.

I should mention here too, that by now, Fire trucks had arrived from every single Huron County Dept except for one. The Howick Department did not respond as they were almost an hour away and were told to remain where they were to help cover other areas should they have their own calls to deal with. Trucks had also arrived from Walkerton, Hanover and Lucknow. They had received word that a specialized unit from Toronto was on its way.

Once the truck I was in returned to the hall, I got out and walked to the Knights of Columbus Hall which wasn't very far away. I was ready to work. Ready to help. Ready to support the victims.

Because after all, I was just fine. 
In this midst of it all she thinks of others, she goes off to help support others!  Please go to this link for a list of all Melissa's 'Tornado in Goderich' related posts.  She has such a way with words. 
Melissa continued to write through the weeks and months that followed.  And people learned of her writing, learned of her talent and she was 'shared' all over the world.  She was part of interviews, books and I believe also part of appeals and 'sessions' with places like insurance companies that needed to 'work' on how they deal with these type of catastrophic situations.  She chose to do a lot of work for Victim Services... supporting others but also raising funds and awareness for them.  She became a voice for the people of Goderich.  She grew, she changed, she cried, she laughed, she wept, she found joy and hope again.  And threw it all she shared her words and her honesty with others.  
A year later she shared this....

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tornado in Goderich...1 Year Later....

One year ago today, an F3 tornado came through Goderich, forever changing so many of us.  In our case it destroyed our vehicles and our home.  I have been blogging our experience ever since that fateful day.  To read our story from the beginning, click here. 


Here we are, the day has arrived. 

August 21 2012.

Just another date on the calendar, that feels anything but ordinary.

As the calendar flipped to August this year, I quickly realized it wasn't just the second month of summer anymore...the entire month has taken on new meaning now.  Throughout the last few weeks my heart has felt heavier.  My emotions are running higher.  My heart is beating faster and I am purposefully exhaling more often, making a conscious effort to remain calm. 


I walk down my street and remember.  I always remember, but there's something about August, it's different.  It's "more".  I sit at the beach, staring out at the water beyond the Salt Mine, beyond the pier, beyond the breakwall, and I remember.  I am making pickles out of cucumbers from my garden and remember.  I grate zucchini and I remember.  I watch the tomatoes ripening on the vines in the garden and remember.  This is exactly where we were last year.  Making pickles, googling zucchini recipes, preparing to make salsa. I see the "Taste of Huron" banner hanging from the hydro poles by the pillars on Hwy 8 and remember what that banner looked like afterwards.    I make plans for Makenna's birthday party and remember.  Another, year, another birthday...we have come full circle...we're right back where we were a year ago. 

We're back at August.

I have struggled over which approach to take with this "one year later" post.  I thought I had it figured it out and was halfway through it when I attended a professional development session on grief and bereavement counselling. 

And then my thoughts about this post changed. 

That session was exactly 1 week ago.  51 weeks after the tornado.  And by the end of it I was in tears. 

This past year has brought so much heartache, so many transitions, so much change.  There have been highs and lows.  In my family, we have been involved in professional counselling, we have tried to give back, and we have celebrated our successes. 

And 51 weeks later, I walked out of a room able to look back and gain a bit of perspective. 

We suffered a loss.  We did.  And we grieved that loss.  In different ways we are still grieving it.  What I came out of that training with last week, was the understanding that it is okay.  That it is healthy.  Expected.  Encouraged.  Maybe not by society, but by the helping professions.  By theexperts, who really know what they are talking about. 

I came away feeling validated. 

What happened to us, and so many others in our community, was unexpected.  It was sudden, shocking, severe and traumatic.  It came out of nowhere.  We didn't have time to prepare ourselves for it, physically or mentally.  12 seconds earlier we were living one kind of life.   12 seconds later everything we knew to be true was different, changed, gone.  There wasn't time to prepare for that, warm up to the idea, accept the idea or try to alter the outcome.  In the blink of an eye, in 12 short seconds, we were changed forever.

When something like that happens to you, it effects every part of your life.  Physically, Psychologically, Spiritually, and affects you all the way down to your very psyche.  Your life is now divided into 2 timeframes; everything that happened before, and everything that happened after. 

But the event, is just one moment in time.  Now you have to spend the rest of your life dealing with what comes next.  The process, is another thing entirely.  In this past year, August 21 2011 was not the most difficult day for me.  The process of dealing with what happened, has been much more difficult. 

I felt validated when the speaker shared her opinion that there are no "stages" of grief.  That grief cannot be clearly divided, categorized and compartmentalized into neat and tidy stages.  That yes, in the beginning, many people show similarities in the way they are grieving.  Shock, trauma, denial.   Those are somewhat predictable.  But you can't predict what will come next for someone.  And what comes next for one person will be different than what comes next for someone else.  The way a person handles something traumatic in their life depends on such a myriad of factors specific to their situation - what else is going on in their life at that time, what supports they already have in place, what their spiritual and cultural beliefs are, how they manage stress, whether they have been through a similar situation before etc etc etc...all of these factors and more vary so widely from person to person, and influence how they grieve.  So of course it makes sense that no one's experience will be the same as anyone else's.  No one should be compared to anyone else, no one should be judged by anyone else.  You don't know what else is going on or has already gone on in their life, you don't know how their spiritual/cultural beliefs influence them, you don't know what types of supports this person has, or if they are healthy just don't know what it's like to be them.  You can guess how you would handle it, based on your experiences, your life.  But you can't know what it's like to bethem. You can't know how they will react when traumatized and in shock.  You can even be suffering from the same event, as so many were and are here,  but you'll be suffering in different ways.  No two people on Earth, including those in the same family, in the same household, experience it the same way. You don't know how it feels to be someone else.  You don't share their persona.  You don't live inside their mind.  You can empathize and sympathize, but you simply cannot know how they feel.   These were the words of an expert in the field.  Words that validated everything I have been feeling and trying so hard to convey this past year. 

There is no recipe for how to handle something like this.  It doesn't come with instructions.  There's no path laid out.  Just because someone else has suffered trauma in their life, they haven't suffered this trauma, or the way this trauma affects your life at this time.   We should not compare losing your home to fire to losing your home to a hurricane, a flood, an earthquake a mudslide...or a tornado,   even though in all cases the home was lost.  Each occurance could be horrible, life changing, traumatic.  But they are not the same, and they are not experienced the same way from one person to the next.  One is not guaranteed to be easier than the other.  One is not guaranteed to be less horrible than the other.  They are simply just different, and experienced differently by each person. 

When you suffer such a severe, unexpected, sudden trauma like that, there is no right or wrong way on how to work your way through it.  What I took away from this speaker, was that you cannot begin to heal until you have accepted the reality of your loss, face and work through the pains and emotions that come with the loss, and adjust to your new environment and life that includes that loss.  You never "get over it".  It becomes part of who you are and you work towards learning how to carry on with that now being a part of who you are.  Some people can come to that on their own.  Some people need the help of professionals to get to that frame of mind.

 There is no timeframe on that.  And it will be different for each person. 

She used the analogy of a slinky.  Remember that toy?  (Everyone loves a slinky!).  Imagine the slinky pulled right out, your arms stretched wide.  Grief, she said, works like the coils of that slinky.  You move forward a bit, then back.  Then forward a bit more, then back again, then forward, and back again but not as far...and on and on and on.   Throughout the process, something could trigger you and you could end up right back at the beginning.  It's not a 12 step process, its not something you just have to "get done".

If you are on the outside looking in, in order to help someone through their trauma, first of all, you need to be patient.   It is a well known and proven fact that trauma changes the way a person's brain works, no matter how old they are.  You may believe a person is acting inappropriately, but you have no right to judge or presume anything.   Concrete help is what's best.  Food.  Babysitting.  Kleenex, laundry, making phone calls, etc.  Sometimes all that is needed is your presence so a person knows they aren't physically alone in the world.  You cannot "fix" it, so please don't try.  Don't say it'll be okay.  Don't say time will heal.  Don't try to minimize the situation by telling of a worse one.  That may all be true, but it won't help the person suffering.  It won't help them feel heard, validated, understood. 

Above all else, please:  Listen to understand, not to say something back. 

Being at this presentation last Tuesday night did something else for made all those negative comments, the hate, the bullying and targeting I described to you a couple months ago seem so small and insignificant. It helped me to see, and validated for me, that the people who made and are still making those comments really have no idea how I feel or what I think, or they think they do and simply don't care. They are so caught up in their own stuff, in their own beliefs about the situation, in their own...whatever...that all that lashing out at me carries no real weight or validity over me and my life at all. Everyone is entitled to their informed opinion, but what I learned here, from someone who knows this subject on every level possible, drove home to me that my experience this past year has nothing to do with anyone else. This is about my interpretation of what happened in my life and all the judgements, presumptions and accusations others have made about me, and/or my family, are about them and how they feel about what happened, and should have no bearing on how I feel or what I do.  Sure, there are people who don't like what I've said or done.  Yes, there are people who don't like the way I have handled this, but what else is new?  Is there a way I could have pleased everyone?  Why would I be obligated to?  Everyone reacts differently. So what if I chose to blog my story and make it public and others didn't?  That was my way of dealing.  Of getting it out of my head.  My way is no better or worse than anyone else's - it's just my way.

So, at the end of this PD session, everyone around the room took turns sharing their feedback.  The purpose of this session was to discuss supporting a parent who has lost a child in a sudden, unexpected way.  Now, I am a mother myself and in no way am I comparing losing a child to losing your home, so please don't twist my words. What we talked about was how people grieve traumatic, sudden, unexpected deaths.  I felt like everything she said made sense for what had happened here in Goderich as well.  When my turn came, my voice wavered as I admitted I had not lost a parent, or a child, but had survived a traumatic experience and that a lot of what she said hit home with me.  I was in tears by the end of the sentence.

Because it did hit home to me.  It did speak to me and make sense to me.  We suffered a loss.  A traumatic loss that we needed to grieve.  And until we accept the reality of that loss, face and work through the pain and emotions of it and adjust to our new reality, which includes everything from the new skyline of our neighbourhood, Harbour Park and Benmiller, to the gaping holes on the square to our fear of thunderstorms, we will not be able to move forward.  I mean this on both an individual basis, and on a collective community basis. 

Over this past year, I believe I, and my family, have done a lot of work to move in the direction of healing.  I sought out counselling immediately for my kids, and when I realized I needed it for myself, I forced myself not to let my pride get in the way of reaching out for help. I just knew I couldn't deal with this any other way. I accepted the reality that I needed anti anxiety medication, am still to this day 100% confident that was the right thing for me, and, with the help of my TFF (Tornado Friend Forever) dealt with that realization as best I could and tried to be realistic about my limits, triggers and fears.  I believe wholeheartedly that the professional counselling I received and participated in with my children through our Family Health Team, which we were referred to through our family doctor, has been a huge step in our ability and willingness to heal.  I have no issue sharing that with you, because there is nothing to be ashamed of or embarassed about.  I know I did what was best for me, and for us.  I hope others that need this kind of assistance had or have the courage to seek it out as well.  

Another part of my process of healing:  I cried.  Oh did I cry.  I cried and cried and cried.

This past week, as August 21 inched closer and closer, as emotions were clearly running high throughout this town, its neighbourhoods and between the friends, residents and people who have been through so much, I found myself crying again.  For all that we experienced, for what we lost, and for what we have gained. 

The speaker that night reminded me that there are actually gifts we have gained in this past year.  We have made connections with people. Our neighbours, people in the community we didn't know before August 21, and people from beyond.  Deeper, more meaningful connections that hold a greater understanding because of what we have  collectively witnessed.  Forever Friendships that have changed on so many levels from shared experiences that will never be forgotten. My relationship with my brother, which has always been very positive, but is immeasurably deeper now.  I cannot put this part into words and feel I have explained it accurately; the gift we have gained from our connections with others throughout this past year.

We have also received the greatest opportunity to learn, grow and change.  I have gained self awareness. What I have been through struck me down, stripped me back and forced me to really look at and get to know myself.  What my limits are and what I am capable of.   The effect I have had on others, and the effects others have had on me.   These are the words from that same speaker, that echo my feelings and thoughts.  I am more secure in who I am, what my passions are, and what I believe in. I think twice more often, but I also feel less obligated to apologize for the choices I make and the way I live my life.  "The more you love your decisions, the less you need others to love them". 

Thank you, Kate Burdett-Hough, for giving me this perspective.

This was not how I originally intended this one year later post to read.   But now, looking back, I think its a good summary and I finish feeling like I have left everything out here on the "virtual" page.  After this, after today, I think I'm done.  It's been a full year, today will be a surreal, crazy day for me and once its over I think it's time for this story, this series to end.  Every story has to have an ending. 

Again, I feel at a loss for words on how to thank you for all you have done for me, all you have been to and for me.  You have carried me, you have built me up, you have given me strength, encouragement, hope and love. So many of you have sent me private messages, introduced yourself to me while out in the community, stopped by my house (all of them, lol), to say hello, connected with me via twitter and more.  Those of you that knew me long before this ever happened have stood by me, grounded me, parented my children when I could not and kept me sane.  "They" say it takes a village to raise a child.  This village we have created here has raised me up through many tough moments and I am forever grateful and humbled by that and by you.  Many of you have tornado stories of your own that the world should to hear to understand.  I wish they could. 

The Story of Us blog will of course, continue on, but now it's time for me to get back to the writing I was doing before...if I can remember what that was, or how to do it.  I hope you will continue to follow along. What will be will be, what comes up and presents itself will do so, and who knows what the future holds for me, my writing and this blog. 

A year ago, on August 12 2011 I wrote about my frustrations in not knowing where my life was headed. Not knowing what was coming next.  Wishing I had a crystal ball.  

9 days later an F3 tornado roared through my life and in 12 seconds turned everything I thought I knew upside down.  Even if I had have had that crystal ball, I wouldn't have been able to find the damn thing. 

Do me a favour?  Close your eyes and count it out.  12 seconds.  Then open your eyes and look around you. 

And simply be grateful that everything is still where it was 12 seconds ago. 

I am so glad that I have Melissa in my life, that I can drop into her blog once in awhile and often relate to the issues she's blogging about... negative people was a recent one, another was about the stupid things people say.  I find it so amazing that I am drawn to her blog when I can relate to it most.
A few months ago I sent her this note to a post and I think it's the best way to sign this one off...
Your journey has given you the courage to do things you never dreamed you would. My journey has done the same for me. Would either of us preferred to not have had this pain in order to take this journey..for sure. Would either of us have chosen not to take this journey and all the amazing things that have happened because of it, if given the choice? I don't think so, not me anyway. I don't LOVE everything about my journey and I wish my son was still here... I wish your house was still here and your town was still the same... but I am so very grateful for all the amazing people we both have met because of the fall out of crisis. I am delighted in the amazing things that you have experienced, the things you have been able to do and the experiences you have had. I am amazed in the growth my own life has had. 
So to those who feel the need to talk about something they know only what THEY know about, I say 'walk a mile in my shoes, a lifetime in my head and eternity in my heart and then we can talk about what is and isn't right, fair, proper, acceptable, ethical, blah, blah, blah. Until then, shut the....... yeah, never mind. 

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