To read our story about how the tornado has affected our family from the beginning, click here.
It has been 3 months.
We now view our lives in terms of the events that happened "pre tornado" and those that have happened "post tornado". And it's only been 3 months.
In some ways the longest, most eventful 3 months of my life, and in other ways, I cannot believe it has already been 3 months. Sometimes I still think it's August.
Until I go outside that is.
Seriously though, everything changed in August and although time and the calendar moves on, for me it still in some ways feels like one giant never ending day.
It has been 3 months.
So how are we doing?
Well...we are doing okay. People ask how the time how I'm doing, how we're doing, how Makenna and Jack are doing. I am careful to answer than we are doing better than we were. Because we are better than we were, but we aren't "all better". It's not over. It's not in the past and we aren't over it. We are better than we were but there is still a long way to go.
3 months later...3 firefighters have given their resignations...some reasons unrelated to the tornado, some reasons related.
3 months later, to the day, my Dad is home. His first time back to Ontario since July, his first time seeing what we have grown accustomed to in the last 3 months. And apparently, he is here to stay.
I returned to work at the end of October, and I am still there. I needed that extra time off, and am glad I took it. I did a lot of healing, a lot of self care during that time, and tried to really focus on the needs of myself and my family. I visited with the Social Worker who is part of our Family Health Team on a few occasions to try to process myself through everything I was thinking and feeling.
One of the things she said to me was this: When you run a marathon, you train for it...Oftentimes for months in advance. Then you go run it, and then you are done. You don't get up and do it all again the next day, and the next, and the next.
When we woke up on Sunday August 21, we expected it to be Just Another Sunday.
Instead, we entered a marathon.
We had no warning, no preparation, no idea what we were doing. We ran a marathon that day, physically, mentally, emotionally...we stretched ourselves to the limit. And then we did it all again the next day. And the next. And the next. With no preparation, no training, no experience, very little sleep...no idea what we were doing. Every day the game changed and we had to keep adapting, and we had to keep up. No time to take a time out and catch our breath. For weeks.
And when things calmed down physically, we continued to run that marathon mentally and emotionally. We went into a second, third and fourth week of mental marathons, with no breaks, no chance to mentally refuel.
When you don't have a chance to rest and refuel, eventually your body and/or your brain will start to short circuit, not work as well, and send you signs that enough is enough.
That's what happened to me. My mind had had enough and was telling me something had to give.
I couldn't stop dealing with my house. I couldn't stop being a mother and trying to help my children through all of their transitions. I couldn't stop being a wife, a firefighter wife and trying to keep my marriage together as it faced the toughest test of its 8 years. I couldn't stop talking to contractors, designing a house, liasing with insurance companies. I had no choice about all that.
So when I tried to add my professional life to the mix, my mind couldn't do it. It shut down on me and said "enough is enough, something has to give here". So for me, the easiest thing to "give" on, was work.
So I did. And I'm glad I did. I needed a chance to rest. To have quiet. To give my full attention to what I needed to in order to move on.
And I did.
I cried. A lot. It was so frustrating. I had absolutely no control over my emotions and always seemed to lose it at the most inappropriate times. I have been a professional "helper" for 10 years now and have never been in the position I have now been put in, before. People who were my equals in my professional life, were now helping me. Seeing a side of me they hadn't before. A side they were used to seeing in people, but not in me.
Jack's daycare teacher, who is a friend of mine, was on the receiving end of that "side" repeatedly and very quickly became able to "read" me as soon as I walked in the door. One day I lost control to the point I needed to walk back out and go through half a box of tissues before I could calmly pick up my son.
It was really difficult to have such little control over my emotions.
But, it was a phase I needed to go through. And I'm glad I did.
Now that I have come out the other side so to speak, people have felt safe enough to tell me how worried they were about me. I knew that. And for those of you who are a distance away from me, I assure you, I had a couple friends in particular keeping very close tabs on me. They thought they were doing it subtly...but I knew. I have done it myself for others before.
But I very much appreciate it, and assure you all I was in good hands with them.
You know who you are. Thank you.
I don't cry as much anymore...in fact, I can't tell you the last time I cried about all this, which is a major milestone for me.
The feelings of anxiety and helplessness are still there, but are less...all encompassing. Its manageable now, thanks to some coping mechanisms that have been put into place for me.
Our house was demolished on November 5, which was a turning point. Now when we drive by our house and our street, there is a feeling of pride...of growing excitement...of hope. There is a lot of work being done on our street and we are all so grateful to everyone who is braving the elements every day to help bring us all home to Park Street.
These people build houses for a living, do it every day and don't think much of it. Some love it, to others maybe it's just a job, but for us, the residents of Park Street....you are doing so much more than building houses. You are restoring our neighbourhood, our lives, our hope. This is not a normal situation. Not a normal job or a normal build. What you are doing is very special and we are all so incredibly grateful and indebted to you for taking this on and helping us get our lives back.
As I write this, our property has a foundation. It is ready for floors and walls to go up. The hope is to have it closed in before the really nasty weather, so they can work inside on it through the winter. We have been given "Early Spring" as an anticipated timeline. Our house will have a finished basement, as it did before, with the addition of a cold cellar...for canning and non perishable foods, yes...but to be honest...that enclosed concrete room is there for other reasons too....just one lesson we learned from all this.
The main floor will be "open concept" with the kitchen at the back of the house, looking out into the backyard. I will have plenty of storage and a nice island in the kitchen too. The three bedrooms will be upstairs and all will have closets, a nice treat for all of us...especially me. We are not getting a Royal Home, it is being custom built by D and J Construction out of Brussels...just another "guy" my brother knew.
I have learned a lot about door styles, siding colours, kitchen layouts and the importance of hinge colours...as I'm sure anyone who has ever built their own house can identify with...and we have only just begun. People are excited for us because we are getting a new house. And we are looking forward to that...more than we were before. We know this is the only way we would have ever been able to custom build a home for ourselves. We know this is an opportunity that very few people get - to build a house and have the majority of it paid for by someone else. I get to have input into what the kitchen looks like, buy brand new stuff, and what we will come out with will be much better than what we had or would have ever had before. We know that. And we know it is only because of a tornado that we are able to do it. Before, it felt like a slap in the face to have people tell us to be happy and excited about getting a brand new house. It doesn't feel quite so harsh now...we know that's the reality, that this is the only way we would have ever been able to do this...but I truly cannot minimize what happened in the first place to bring us to this point. Yes, we are happy we are getting a brand new house, set up to our specifications. I just wish all of the emotional baggage wasn't coming with it.
We have been working away at replacing the items we lost. My brother dragged Jeff and I to a local furniture auction one Sunday afternoon after we had been out much too late the night before. Neither Jeff nor I had ever been to such a thing. Neither of us were really in the mood or expected much to come from it.
A couple hours later I had purchased a dining room table and 6 chairs, a living room set and a bedroom set, complete with boxpring and mattress. Once again Mike knew what he was doing. We have replaced our appliances and are working away on the rest. We are hoping to benefit from Boxing Day Sales and are looking forward to replacing all of the outdoor items we lost next Spring. Jeff really misses his barbecue and lawnmower. Makenna can't wait for a new swingset. I look forward to replacing our Zero Gravity Chairs, hammock swing, and planting new vegetable and flower gardens.
A few weeks ago a woman asked me what the hardest thing has been. It was actually a bit of a difficult question...of everything going on, what one thing was the hardest? Could I name just one thing?
I answered that it was emotional hold it has on me. The unexpected emotions that come out of nowhere, without warning, that I can't control. And the unknowns that come with them...Why do I feel this way? How long will I feel this way? When will this get better? Will this get better? The long terms effects of all of this...that this isn't going away, isn't over...even after 3 months. Also the unknown effects this has all had and will continue to have on my children. That is very difficult for me to come to terms with.
2 1/2 months after the tornado, Jack had a nightmare about it. I was ready and waiting for nightmares in August and September, and was hoping by November we were in the clear. Jack talks about the "storm", our old house and how much he misses it, the fact that a man died, something about that day and everything since, on a daily basis. He incorporates it into his play. It has become a part of him and how he sees the world.
And he isn't even 4 years old.
The first week of school, I met with Makenna's Vice Principal to discuss her usual personality, as well as what I would perceive to be "warning signs" with her at school - signs that she wasn't coping well. School has always been her happy place, and so I was relieved when she easily continued into grade 2 as she always has in the past.
At her parent teacher interview in early November, I learned that she had recently been becoming less focused, quieter, and wasn't putting as much effort into her work as she had been at the beginning of the year. She was starting to slip. That was the day after Jack's nightmare.
I know its only grade 2 and it's only November, and she's been through "a lot", but again, I felt helpless. School has always been a sure thing with Makenna. She is smart, loves to learn and has always been near or at the top of her class...it has come easy to her all along...and for that to be in question now too...could nothing just go as planned??
That was the last time I felt like crying about all this. Thankfully I held it back. But I was so frustrated. This damned tornado was 3 months ago and here we were still dealing with it. I was expecting maybe a tough beginning to the school year for her, but not in November...especially when she started so strong.
Enter my brilliant social worker again, who reminded me that I was doing okay with holding everything together until I returned to work. It was then that my mind said "enough". Maybe Makenna's situation wasn't much different. This was happening at school during the weeks leading up to our house demo, maybe it was just all too much for her to take. The thing is though, I can't pull her out of school for a month.
She of course, claimed not to know what we were talking about and insisted everything was fine, as it always had been.
I didn't want to blame this on the tornado if that wasn't what it was. Its a good excuse, but only if that's the actual problem. She's a 7 year old extremely sensitive, emotional child to begin with....maybe she was having trouble with other students...maybe the work was just getting harder for her, maybe there was a personality conflict somewhere...maybe it was because I myself was preoccupied and not spending as much time overseeing her school work because I assumed she would be fine...or maybe there was something deeper going on because a tornado took away the normal life she knew and she was just now starting to react. I really had no idea at all. That's the problem. You don't know. And you don't know what else is coming down the road as a result of all this. It's bad enough for you as an adult to deal with yourself. It's extremely difficult to see it in your children and have no control over it.
I attended a talk about trauma in children. It was actually put on by the organization where I work, but I attended as a parent. I listened as the speaker, a psychologist from CPRI went through the signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in children, which usually show up 4-6 weeks after a trauma, checking them off in my head as he went along. The difference though, the speaker was sure to point out, was that this "trauma" isn't over yet...its not like a car accident where it happens and then it's over. or a death where it happens, and then it's over. This trauma that we are dealing with is ongoing...there are so many layers to it and there are still signs of it everywhere we look...for us we can't put it behind us or really classify it as "over" until we are back in our house. It was nice to hear an expert say that.
But once again, being the person I am and knowing what I do, I brought another professional into our lives, to try to help my children in ways I can't.
Recently while discussing our situation with a group of moms I know, one asked me, quite unexpectedly, what the "best thing" about all of this has been.
Without hesitation I answered "Community".
We are not victims and have never felt like victims.
We are so very aware of how blessed we are to have the support we do. Jeff and I both are friends with different groups of people, belong to different groups and share a community through the activities of our children.
Through our neighbourhood, our friends, the Fire Department, Victim Services, our employers, the parents of our children's friends, the school and daycare staff, and the clients and colleagues Jeff and I both work with...as well as complete strangers who read this blog or hear our story through others, we feel loved. We feel supported and we know we are not alone. We have gained and strengthened friendships we may not have had the opportunity to have had otherwise. We have been humbled and gained empathy toward others. We understand trauma, which helps both of us immensely in our Volunteer positions.
We know what matters most in life. What is not worth fighting about or stressing over.
We feel like we are a part of this town and are proud to live here. We are glad our kids live here and see everyday the work people are doing to restore our community. The help that comes in from strangers. The "I love Goderich" signs and products everywhere. The lessons they are learning about life and about humanity just by living here are better than we could ever teach them. The messages of love and support we receive on a regular basis are both comforting and empowering.
August 21 was a day that changed our lives.
But not all of it has been bad.
Good has come from that. For all of us.
I feel the need to give back. To be a part of something bigger. Makenna's Principal, who I worked with before Makenna was born, told me I would come to feel that way, and I have.
There is so much I can do, even in little ways to feel like I am contributing. That I am helping to make our little corner even just a bit better, even for just a few people. And so I am. I am surrounding myself with people who have a similar outlook, I'm looking forward, and being proactive.
And it feels good to help others. So so so so so good. To have the best of intentions and feel like you are actually doing something to help someone.
Because now, I know what it's like to be helped. It was huge. Life changing. Going through what we did, and having so many people wrap their arms around us and do whatever they could to help us really changes your outlook on life. On people. And I just want to give that to someone else as much as I can. Because everyone should feel what we did. That love and support. That feeling that someone..many someones..truly cared about what was happening to us.
The Christmas Season is upon us. For some families affected, it is a difficult time this year. Financially, yes, but also emotionally. Some just aren't into it. Don't want to be into it. Can't feel joyful because they are surrounded by and reminded every day of all they have lost and how difficult their lives have become. Their temporary rental accomodations aren't big enough for the big family gatherings they are used to. They lost their decorations and don't want new ones, they just want their old ones back. The ones that held meaning to them.
We have a 7 and 3 year old. As easy as it would be to skip over the decorating and the baking and the giddiness, it's not fair to them. It's not healthy for them. We are always trying to do what is best for our children and what is best for them is as much normalcy and routine as possible. We can't hang our Christmas cards amongst the garland intertwined up the staircase this year - this house is set up differently. We can't hang garland and bows from our front porch. We're not sure if we can even put lights up outside here, we haven't even looked and aren't sure if we still have outdoor lights anyway.
But we can still put up our tree. We can still sprinkle reindeer food. We can still bake cookies and treats for Gramps and Uncle Mike. We can still wrap presents with Christmas songs in the backround. It's a different house, and it's only for one Christmas, but we will still be joyful and excited and find our Christmas Spirit...because we need to.
Next year will be our 7th Christmas on Park Street, but our first in our new home....in our old neighbourhood that will have a brand new look. New traditions will blend with the old and we look forward to that a year from now.
This year both of our children were part of the Goderich Santa Claus Parade; Jack with the Fire Department and Makenna with her cheerleading group. Makenna had to be chaperoned so I dressed in layers and walked behind the group as part of one of the biggest parades in Goderich's history. It was a beautiful night and the streets were lined with people who live here, and people who don't...all who came because they love our town and wanted the reassurance that yes, we are all doing okay. Our community is vibrant, strong, and carrying on. I watched my 7 year old dance and bounce her way through town, her friend Kate helping lift her into the air every now and then, big smiles on their faces the entire time. The first parade they had ever been in and they loved every second of it.
And as we walked behind them, Kate's mom and I proudly carried the sign that had been affixed to the fence condemning our house. "Thank You for Helping to Rebuild Canada's Prettiest Town".
This was my way of saying Thank you.
To those of you I know, and those of you I don't, but who know me and my family. For all you have done, and continue to do for us, and for our town. We notice. We appreciate it. We are thankful.
We are doing okay.
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