Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The mental side of resurrection...

I wrote this in January 2012, but never published it.  This gives you a glimpse into the mindset I was beset with:

The mental side of this experience has put me off balance, almost like I have some sort of vertigo in my brain/thought process.  I am easily flustered, easily discouraged, easily distracted by thoughts of the tornado or "worst case scenario" in whatever it is I am doing.  For example, I was driving part way across the country with my kids in December 2011 and had to fight to keep my mind from "seeing" us in a horrible auto accident and then picturing how I would save all the kids.  Then the thought pops up, "You can out-live all the disasters in the world.  Eventually one of them will kill you and your children."  I've been in earthquakes (thank you, California childhood), mild hurricanes (thank you, Florida panhandle college years), and my house in OH was struck by lightening last year.  How much more can I expect to survive?

Coming out of hiding

So, I discovered an interesting side effect of recovering from a tornado in this modern social-media age: over exposure.  I felt so over exposed with all the details of our destruction and recovery.  EVERYTHING was out there: our ages, our clothing sizes, our life history as people from our past shared how they knew us and what they thought of us, our injuries, our fear and sadness, and our happiness, too.  It was all out there.

I was so amazed by the way people we had known from birth to 2 days prior to the tornado came together to support us.  So many items, notes, and checks made their way from all over the U.S. to our doorstep.  People emailed or wrote or called to see if we had received what they had sent and to see how we were doing.  The goodness of their love and generosity made processing the trauma of the tornado very difficult. I wanted to be happy and was happy for all the support, but couldn't escape the fear, sadness, anxiety, and anger that was apart of the tornado experience, too.

I felt very confused and too known and needed to hide.  That's where I've been--hiding.

I'm ready now to continue to share our story.

Thanks for your patience and for the kind notes of encouragement I've received since my last post 18 months ago.


Thursday, May 31, 2012

More of that horrible night...

My mind raced and was at a stand-still at the same time.  I was trying to figure out what to do but couldn’t really figure it out because I still couldn’t comprehend what was going on.  So many thoughts…pull up your skirt, what just happened, “Twister” was a bunch of crap, Caleb is next to me-he’s shivering-pull him close, why isn’t Chuck responding to me, what is going to happen to us…I was shocked.  I couldn’t put all the pieces together.  What the heck was happening? 
The noise of the tornado was insane.  I was literally shouting at the top of my lungs and no one was responding to me.  Perhaps they were in shock.  I’ve seen videos from the tornado and the survivors are covering their ears.  It was LOUD.  It was screaming, throbbing, howling, deep, full, chugging.  There were sounds of wood cracking—trees, houses, light poles, telephone poles.  Like when you snap a twig but deeper and magnified. 
It was so dark until the lightening started flashing.  It lit up that total darkness—but I didn’t recognize anything around me.  Where was my house?  Where was I?  What was happening? 
Then I saw Ian.  His face blank, diaper barely holding on, he was pale, he wasn’t moving.  Oh my God, he is hurt so badly.  I saw him just lying across some bricks, I think he was on bricks.  He was cut open so deeply.  The yellow of fat, the red of muscle, the pink of his skin; a bum shouldn’t look like that.  I yelled to Chuck, “Ian is hurt.”  Chuck then uttered the only words he spoke TO me the entire tornado.  He said, “Grab him.”  I had grabbed some blankets on the way down the stairs.  I made myself move and scooped up my son.  It hurt like hell.  I felt my hip slipping in and out of the socket.  I didn’t really care.  I needed to get Ian.  He is so special.  He has been close to death a few times in his life.  He is too innocent, he is too delayed and too delicate to go through this.  Why?  Why Ian?  I didn’t know if he was alive or dead when I grabbed him.  He looked dead.  I wrapped him in a Strawberry Shortcake blanket my mom had made for me when I was a baby.  He wasn’t speaking.  He wasn’t looking in my eyes.  He wasn’t doing anything.  I kissed him and could tell he was alive.  I told him he was going to be okay.  I really believed we would be okay.  Ian had to be okay.  God, let Ian be okay.  I also thought to myself, “Did I adopt him for THIS?”  How could God let this happen to Ian?  How could THIS be the plan?  Was Ian going to die here?  I honestly thought that I would rather have left him in Ohio to another adoptive family than to have him die like this.  I love that boy so much.  He deserved so much better than this. 
Another flash of lightening and I saw Maggie and Bear…trapped.  The house was on them.  Oh my God, what am I doing to do?  My kids, they can’t move, they are screaming.  Screaming.  Screaming.  Screaming.  Chuck, the kids are trapped.  Why isn’t Chuck responding?  Why isn’t he helping?  Is he hurt?  Why isn’t he helping?  I am alone.  I’m doing this alone.  I’m on my own.  I always knew I’d end up alone.  What if I am the only one who lives?  Oh my God.  Maggie.  Bear.  Ian.  Oh my God.  

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Today was a good day...One year ago today, not so much

We survived. We made it a whole year and today we laughed, we connected, we played, we celebrated life. 

One year ago at this time (9:48pm) I was just arriving at the hospital, a sheriff zipping me through back roads. I had left 3 of my kids with neighbors I had only met that night. I didn't know where my 2 injured kids were and if my husband ever made it to the hospital. I didn't know if my 20-week-gestation baby was alive after part of my house fell on me and broke my pelvis. I was "put" in a back room in the maternity ward. I was low-priority that night and I understood that, but I was so scared. All I could see when I closed my eyes was the face of my trapped daughter screaming to me, "Help me, Mommy, I am dying!" I wanted to see her face again. I wanted to see her smile and laugh. I wanted THAT image in my mind. 

That was the lowest part of that night. There were other experiences that were awful--having to hoist myself up to relieve myself in a bed pan and have the nurse not notice (or care) that it was spilling all over the bed and me not being able to feel my battered back side to know my bed was wet. That was pretty bad. Seeing ds3 for the first time since my neighbors helped me out of where our furnace had bee...he was trapped and screaming the last time I saw him and he screamed nearly non-stop in the hospital. When he saw me he broke and cried hard but once he was laid on me he was asleep within a minute. That was rough. Seeing ds2 regress into his disability after his injuries, that was tough. But nothing was as dark as being in that room, alone, dirty, scared, hurting, moderately ignored, not able to move and FIND my family and take care of them. 

But today was a good day. I am so happy to be alive. I am so happy my kids are alive. I am so happy that dear husband and I are still married (tomorrow is our 13th anniversary). I am so happy that my baby lived. I LOVE my house. I LOVE my chickens and my garden. I LOVE the sunshine we had today. 

Today was a very good day. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Another part of the story...

Here is part 2 (of how many parts?  Not sure yet but more than 2.)

We were pulled about 8 feet to the furnace space.  It was so horrific-ly surreal.  I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that we were being pulled into a tornado.  I couldn’t think straight.  My head was swirling.  I couldn’t even make a “plan” for what I would do because I couldn’t understand what was happening.  How could we be in a tornado?

Prewitt says that the sound of the wind pulling at the garage door sounded like a hundred girls screaming.  It happened so quickly.  It was dark, we were squatting down, the house started shaking, the windows blew out, then, the house was gone…all in a matter of seconds. 

I thought I was going to die.  When we started to go with the tornado, I thought I was going to die.  Then we fell down.  Chuck fell back, Caleb and I fell forward.  Prewitt had a supernatural experience that is his 
story to tell.  Before we fell there was a series of lightening flashes that made seeing the destruction/chaos possible.  In that series I saw Prewitt get sucked away.  He was wearing a green Upward basketball jersey.  I saw him get sucked away feet first, yelling, I couldn’t get him.  I had no time to react to get him.  He was gone.  My heart broke.  My boy was gone.  What just happened?!?!?!?!?  Then we fell.  I fell forward, dropped Caleb with the force of the fall.  The top half of me (from the waist up) was dangling down into the furnace space and the back half of me was still on the concrete pad for the garage.  It jerked me hard.  Should I stay still until it is over or should I try to fall in?  I couldn’t see anything.  I didn’t know where I was.  I didn’t know what to do.  Someone, please tell me what to do! 

Then something fell on me, pushing the breath out of me, flattening my middle.  I felt my pelvis snap.  My right hip felt loose right away.  I knew it was broken.  No one believed me after.  Why doesn’t anyone believe me?  I was trapped.  Whatever landed on me was sitting on me, pushing on me, terrifying me.  Thoughts popped into my mind, “Oh my God, I am trapped!”, “This is my worst nightmare!”, “I’m going to die!”, “No, I’m not!  Kick!  Kick!  Kick!!”  Those thoughts seemed to happen all at once.  I’ve never experienced thoughts like that.  I kicked and kicked—my right leg felt like it was barely staying in the socket.  I couldn’t die that way.  I couldn’t.  God told me to kick, so I kicked.  I fell.  I think I fell on Caleb.  He was shivering, naked.  My skirt came down when I shimmied into the hole.  I remember thinking, “Pull up your skirt.  You can’t be bare bummed in a tornado.”  What a weird thought.  I felt Chuck and started to yell at him, “WHERE’S PREWITT!!!!” over and over and over again.  Chuck just stared, like he didn’t see me.  He was saying Jesus over and over again.  Prewitt was gone.  How could I live with my boy gone?  Then I hear him.  “Mom, I’m over here!”  He was there!!!  He was in the hole with us.  My heart was so full of joy.  My boy was alive.  I needed to pull myself together and find my other kids.  I couldn’t move though.   

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The volunteers are back!

They're back!  They're back!  The volunteers are back!

As we drive through town the kids and I excitedly shout out the license plates of cars driven from far-away states.  College students, high school groups, the occasional retired couple, all here to help rebuild Joplin.  Wonderful does not even begin to describe the joy, the gratitude, the sigh of relief it is to see these souls giving up their time and energy to help us.

Joplin was such a mess.  Just hours after the tornado touched down, the middle third of the city was unrecognizable.  I remember, as my neighbor's son tried (unsuccessfully) to get me and my 3 uninjured kids to the hospital, that the town looked like a war zone.  Like we might as well have been in Kosovo.  I mean, what else could have caused such "unnatural" destruction but a violent bomb attack? Two weeks later, as we drove to our rental house on the far northwest side of Joplin, the debris had morphed with subsequent rain storms from war zone to dump.  The kind of dump you see in Mexico, India, or Ethiopia. There were pieces of life but it was not a friendly or livable environment.  There was such a disharmony between the splintered wood from homes like mine which were picked up, thrown, and scattered, the pink of home insulation, the steel from bent and upturned cars and and the shards of glass that sparkled in the sunlight.  The trees were (and still are) sad.  Those still standing were mangled, missing bark, and oddly leaning northeast.

Despite the unlivable land, the life force of Joplin became stronger.  But, it wasn't on our own that we gained forward motion; it was the life of the volunteers that gave Joplin back its mojo!  They came from all over the country, even from other parts of the world!  Some of the volunteers who helped my family hailed from England, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Oklahoma, and Florida.  They used their vacation hours from a job where they work hard, packed their cars/church vans/got on the plane, brought their kids, put on a breathing mask and rubber gloves and happily completed dirty, difficult, repetitive tasks.  They listened to our traumatic stories, they hugged us, they helped us find the right size shoes for our kids when we couldn't bend over because of a pregnant belly and a broken pelvis (oh, wait, that might have been just me but you get the idea).  The helped us stock our cupboards again with food donated from amazing companies like Newman's Own (and MANY more), they helped us load our cars with bottled water and cleaning supplies and toilet paper.  They picked through the wood and metal and glass and fiberglass and nails and junk to find any piece of our old life like a photo from our wedding or an almost whole piece of our favorite Royal Copenhagen Mother's Day collective plate or one of our kid's favorite toys.  They provided meals and prayers and health care and human touch and kindness to us when many of us couldn't keep our thoughts straight.

But, they had regular lives to which they had to return.  Toward the end of summer the volunteer rush had quieted to a trickle.  The big-wig volunteer relief organizations like The Red Cross and Samaritan's Purse loaded up their giant buses and headed out of town.  I remember one day in late August I was driving toward the highway and passed a massive convoy of military vehicles leaving Joplin.  That was scary.  I thought to myself, "I guess we must be doing fairly well if we don't need them any more."  I felt excited and nervous for Joplin at the same time.  Taking that first step without support is terrifying, but once you realize you can move forward, even if at a snail's pace, you want to do it on your own.

Joplin has been moving forward.  I read that 50% of the properties (business and residential) that were destroyed have applied for new building permits.  I can drive through the destruction zone and see that is true.  But Joplin still has so much work to do.  I am thrilled the volunteers are coming back.  I am glad to be able to take THEM water, give THEM a hug, and tell THEM that we will be all right.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The stuff...

Every once in a while I find myself amused when I think of all the STUFF the tornado took from us.  Of course, there are the big items--the cars (my minivan and my hubby's Civic we bought our first month of marriage 12 years earlier), the furniture we purchased to fill our first house, the SWEET refrigerator we had bought just 2.5 weeks before the tornado; and the sentimental items--the clock my great grandmother and grandfather hand-crafted and painted for me when I was born, the artwork I commissioned from my talented cousin, the painting of my own sweet baby bum painted by my great grandmother, the love letters my husband and I wrote when courting cross-country, the clothes (and positive pregnancy tests) I had saved from each one of my children's infancy.  Then there were the practical things like my MASSIVE collection of cook books and herbs/spices, all the baby gear from the previous 5 kids saved for the final one yet to be born, all the hand-me-down clothes from big brother (I had 5 big tubs of NICE Gymboree clothes saved for the little boys), all my home schooling materials, and so, so, so, so much more.

There are things I find I'm missing that make me laugh.  Items I don't use every day.  For example, Valentine's Day was approaching a few weeks ago and I thought about gettin' a little sexy for the hubby....oh, wait, I don't own any lingerie any more.  Thanks again, Tornado!  Or my daughters and I took a trip to Kansas City for a beauty pageant and the hotel had a pool.  I was excited to go swimming in the winter but wait...I don't own a swim suit any more.  And you know how you amass a collection of clothes that "work" postpartum?  Mine were sucked away into the vortex (which meant postpartum shopping--YUCK)!

The loss of our stuff wasn't too traumatic.  I mean, having it all gone at once left us gob-smacked, but we weren't so attached to it all that we mourned deeply the loss of it all.  I do feel chagrined about the loss of heirlooms like the clock and painting and the fact that I can't share my husband's love letters with my children when they are grown and starting to date.  I feel guilty that since my parents' divorce I was the holder of all videos and pictures from my childhood.  My brothers won't get to share pictures of themselves as cute, freckled 5-year-old boys with their kids because I held onto them and the tornado took them.

But stuff is just stuff.  It is wood, cotton, polymer, nails, bolts, zip-ties, and glue.  I have the memories, I have my children alive and mostly whole.  My husband is still next to me and lives his love letters every day to me.  We bought new stuff--cause you need stuff to go on living in the USA--and if it all gets taken away again, then we'll still be okay.