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Regular, everyday, mundane life can feel stressful, tiring and really overwhelming. Add in the fact that every time you turn on the news or look at social media you see so many natural disasters. It can make a really positive person lose a little faith that everything will be okay. So, how do you cope?
Our family lived through the May 20, 2013, EF5 tornado in Oklahoma that killed 25 people. It was a difficult time and we fared far better than many people in our community.
We only had about a week of school left. My kids were in kindergarten, 2nd and 3rd grade. Maizy had stayed home sick that day. We knew a storm was coming and we’d kind of watched the weather. I’d always been fairly nonchalant about weather. (I still stay pretty calm, but I do keep a closer eye on things now.) It was almost time to leave to pick the kids up from school and Kevin called me and told me the weather wasn’t looking good, so Maizy and I left early to pick up Madeline and Weston.
On our way there, the tornado siren went off. We still were pretty calm because the tornado sirens go off quite a bit in Oklahoma. When we got to the school it was chaos! People were driving like maniacs! They were parked on the grass, driving on the grass, rushing in to pick up their kids and get them home. It was very scary. I remember just holding on to Maizy’s hand so tight and telling the very scared and harried school secretary that we would just stay at the school rather than take the kids out and face the weather and the panic in the parking lot.
At the School
I got Madeline from her classroom and brought her to Weston’s kindergarten class and we all sat together on the floor with the other kindergarteners. Since I volunteered twice a week that year at the computer lab with the kindergarteners, I knew the kids pretty well. I was thankful to be there because I knew that if it were my child and I couldn’t be there with them, I’d want them comforted by as many people as possible.
The kids were scared. Many were crying. I loved on as many as I could. The teachers were great. Trying to distract the kids, reading books. We did what we could to put on our best brave faces for the kids. Suddenly, it became very loud and all the lights went out. The tornado was passing by the school. Some kids screamed and cried. I cried. It was a very haunting moment because you have no idea what will happen, how close it is, really if you’ll live through it. And so scared because you can’t protect your children.
The tornado had passed about a half mile from the school and about a mile from our house. It caused 25 deaths, some were children. It caused millions of dollars in damage. Many people that we knew lost everything.
Kevin was at work in the city that day. He and his coworkers had all gathered to watch the news coverage. Kevin watched as the tornado headed right for the area he knew we were at. He watched as they reported that the tornado had hit a school but they didn’t report the school’s name. The cell towers had been knocked down so he couldn’t get through to me on the phone.
He left work right away but it took him hours to make the 20 mile drive because of all the damage done to the roads and trees and power lines that had been knocked down. He didn’t know what had happened to us or where we were. Kevin was a pilot in the Marine Corps. He’s done a lot of difficult and frightening things. He’s had numerous emergencies in the plane. But, I’m pretty sure if you asked him, he would say that was the most scared he’s ever been.
After the tornado.
For our family it wasn’t bad. It was no electricity for a few days and some work to clean up the debris from the yard and street outside our house. I remember when the kids and I finally made it home and saw there was no electricity we sat at the kitchen table and ate ice cream straight out of the container. It was a little like that scene from Jurassic Park. We just sat and ate ice cream.
Our family had fared much better than so many in our community. We learned some valuable lessons.
Before I go on, let me say, I’m by no means an expert at coping, stress reduction or therapy. I am not a licensed joyologist. (That is an inside joke that Kevin and I use to describe those really, really, REALLY super peppy happy people. It might be from an old Saturday Night Live skit….?) I’m just a mom trying to live my daily life and raise kids with a positive outlook on life in general and also help them when these big disasters occur. Here are some of the things we have learned.
Some may call it counting your blessings. Basically, it’s being happy for what you have. For those of us not affected by a hurricane, flooding or wild fire, it is being thankful for our regular life. Happy we get to go to school or work. Being thankful that there is plenty of gas, milk, water, electricity etc where we live. Because if natural disasters teach us anything it is that these things can go away in the blink of an eye.
After the tornado, we were without power for a few days which was better than many people that were without power for weeks. We couldn’t do the things we normally do. The school district decided that the school year was complete. The kids were sad that they didn’t get to say goodbye to friends, sign yearbooks or participate in the fun end of the year activities that had been planned. But, in all of this we were so thankful for what we did have that many others did not. We were thankful for our home and each other. We were thankful for our lives, our neighbors and families.
Ultimately, in times of disaster, and really all the time, that is what is most important.
Whether you are in the community of the disaster or not, there is always something you can do. From sending money to disaster relief if you are far away to helping with clean up and bringing supplies if you are close. Doing something helps those in need but it also helps you because you are a part of something bigger. A part of a community/ city/ country. You are helping people in need.
In the aftermath of the tornado a group of people made wooden signs and placed them near areas of major destruction. They said encouraging words like Moore Strong and Hang in There. These signs were such a simple but beautiful reminder that there was a whole nation out there that cared and wanted to help.
Talk to your kids.
If your family is far from these disasters, it is definitely beneficial to talk to your kids about it. Help them understand what the disaster is. Encourage them to learn about the cause. Talk about coming together as a community and country and encourage empathy. They could donate a few dollars to help or make a card to send to someone affected. While it is a really trying time, it can also be a good time to share your knowledge and compassion with your children.
If you are close to the disaster, talking to your kids is critical. They need so much support and love to deal with something of this magnitude that has turned their life upside down. Seeing the devastation that nature can bring is life changing.
Two elementary schools were hit by the tornado that day and children lost their lives. For me this was life changing. I think that I had always thought (and told my children) that they were safe at school. It was just what I thought. I guess in my brain I knew that wasn’t true… Maybe it was never true but I had always believed it. This event made my entire outlook on life change. And, of course, with all the media coverage, my kids knew that children had been killed. This was so difficult to discuss with them but so important.
Even for my kids who fared so much better than many others, it affected them. As you can probably imagine, many kids in this community are extremely afraid of thunderstorms. We talked to our kids, learned about tornadoes, taught them things that they can do to be safe in case of another tornado. It seems to make them feel better to be prepared because sadly, tornadoes are a fact of life here. Just like hurricanes are a fact of life if you live on the coast. Talking helps.
When I started writing…
When I began writing this blog, I thought it would be upbeat. I had made an outline that was focused on being positive. But, I cried while writing it and it didn’t turn out at all like I thought it would. Maybe I have some lingering sadness, worries and/or hangups that I hadn’t even realized were there. But, that is life, right?
My kids are doing well. They do get a little more nervous when there is a big storm during tornado season but they rely on what they have learned about storms and pay attention. They realize that they had to face a difficult situation but they made it through. It’s a great life lesson, even though it is sad that they had to learn it at such a young age. With the storm and in our everyday life, I try to remember and remind them that it could be worse. Someone always has it worse than you do.
Stay strong everyone!
If you are currently involved in one of these many disasters, know that the rest of us are thinking of you and wish you only the best! Hopefully, the disasters are not as bad as they predict and life gets back to normal for you as quickly as possible. Know that we will make it through all of these hurricanes and wild fires and flooding and even the politics. We will come together and persevere. By working hard, showing our true grit and tenacity and helping each other, we will come through these difficult times better and stronger!
Looking for a way to help? If you are interested in donating to the Red Cross- Here’s a link.