To read how the tornado has affected our family from the beginning, click here.
February 21 2012.
Here we are, 6 months later.
The 6 month milestone is a major one. 6 month anniversaries are always acknowleged more than any other month in the first year. Dating for 6 months, a baby turning 6 months old. 6 months since a death occurred.
Half a year.
Half of a year has passed since the tornado.
Half of a year. 6 months from today will be August 21 2012. One can only begin to imagine what that day will look like and consist of.
For some, this has been a loooooooong 6 months. Lives have changed, families have been uprooted, displaced and disrupted, and marriages have been tested. It’s hard to comprehend all that has taken place in this town and in some families within a 6 month period.
For others, it is hard to believe it has already been 6 months. Some still have that “stuck in August” feeling. Some families have made very little progress since that day and can't believe half of a year has passed.
6 months later and my friend Kathy and her family from just up the street have movers at their newly finished, rebuilt home today. Their home was demolished the week after Thanksgiving, and they return to Park St the week after Family Day. They lost and rebuilt their house in a 6 month period. 4 months really.
Surprisingly, they are not the first family to move home. Matt Hoy has been in his newly built house just around the corner on
Cambria Road, for almost
a month. The Hakkers’ families at the
end of Park Street
have moved into their 2 Royal Homes. My
neighbours Christa and Rick returned to their home which underwent extensive
repairs, in early February. Another
family I know on the corner of
and St Patrick Streets returned to their home late January after it underwent
extensive repairs. Other families in our neighbourhood including the Doreys and the Bells are close. It won't be too much longer. Waterloo
But the rest of
Patrick Street remains unchanged. Very little progress has taken place over there, as families continue to battle and play waiting games with their
insurance companies, or wait for contractors to fit them in.
A family who lives one street behind us on
St David Street,
has been living a nightmare over the past 6 months. They have gotten nowhere with their insurance
company and are still without an official decision as to what will happen to
their home, even though it is now so full of mould no one could ever live there
again. Staying in a house out of town with their 3 young children, they are
drowning in expenses and uncertainties while their insurance adjustor who
continues to live her normal life in a city 2 hours away, is of no help. Quite the opposite actually. Can
you imagine living in limbo like that, in someone else’s home out of town,
while the expenses on your old home that you are no longer in but are still
responsible for continue to pile up, for
6 months with no end in sight? Every part of your life suffers, from your
relationship with your children, to your marriage, to your mental health.
David Street, and the other side of Park Street,
families continue to live in the homes they lived in on August 21 2011. The tornado got them, but not as severely as
it got us. As a result, their
homes stayed standing while mine was ordered to come down. Lucky for them you say? Perhaps not.
Since that day, as they continue to live in their homes, they continue to deal with the fall out. Backyards destroyed. Broken windows. Roofs lifted off in spots. Cracked walls. Broken siding. Trees lost, pools lost, basements damaged and front porches ruined.
While we walked away and started over with house plans, insurance money to replace lost contents and the thrill of watching our new homes take shape, these families never left their damaged homes. They have to live amongst the damages and the repairs. As time marches on they discover new problems. Cracks in walls that weren't there before. Cracks in foundations. Problems in the basement. Their lives are in a state of upheaval too, in some ways more than ours. While the work is being done in our home, we are staying somewhere else. While the work is being done to their homes, they are living and breathing it in, every day. Insurance companies and contractors may put them off or delay the deadlines, claiming homes like mine are more of a priority. Or perhaps they are arguing with their adjusters about what damages they have incurred, whether or not they are a result of the tornado, who should be responsible for repairs, and when those repairs will take place. While I wait, so do they. Because their homes weren’t damaged enough to come down, they have to live with the reality in ways different than we do.
This, I think, is the theme of how I am feeling this month.
Last month I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, lamenting about how slow the progress was and lashing out at those who told me “at least they are doing something” I didn’t want to hear it. I was very focused on my own life, my own family, our own hardships and our own day to day struggles. I was sick of seeing progress at every house on my street and comparing it with how slowly mine was moving along. I just wanted it to be over, I wanted to be home, and more than anything else, I wanted people to stop asking me when the house would be done, why things were moving so slowly and why our builders were never there. When people asked me that over and over again, I wanted to cry…and many times I did. Again, in the most inappropriate places. Man, I am bad for that.
Then, I went away for a week. Packed up my kids and my husband, got on a plane with other members of my family and flew 4 hours to a tropical destination to escape my street, my house, the questions and the obsessive thoughts in my head. For a week, my biggest concerns were sunscreen, pesos and whether or not my kids were eating enough.
Yes, there was stress. But it was a different kind of stress. The kind you would expect when travelling internationally with two small children.
But I got away from my life for a week, and it turns out I really, really needed to.
A week later, I returned to the same life. It was only a week away after all. But while away I kept reminding myself and our children how lucky we were that we could go in the first place. That what we were doing that week was not “the norm” for most families. That we needed to embrace and appreciate where we were and what we were doing.
Since our return I am trying to do the same thing; embrace and appreciate where we are and what we are doing.
We were able to walk away from what the tornado did to our home and start over. Others weren’t. We are going to receive a brand new home. Others aren’t. Our dealings with insurance have been completely fine. That is not the norm for people in this town. Just before we left on our trip our insurance adjustor actually, unbeknownst to me, showed up unannounced at our house being rebuilt while workers were there, conducted her own self tour and then took it upon herself to call me at home and see how I was feeling about everything. When I told her, she then called our contractor to get answers. That is not the norm.
We are knowledgeable, well connected people in this town that have gotten answers and results thanks in large part to who and what we know. Others have had a much harder struggle getting any answers at all.
On August 20 2011 we were a typical young family living from paycheque to paycheque in our first home that needed an extensive amount of work done to it. We puttered away on it over the last 6 years, proud the minor upgrades we completed indoors and the transformation we gave to outdoor areas, but we knew we would never have the money to completely renovate the house like we wanted to.
6 months later, we are building a brand new house and almost all of it is being paid for by someone else. Very few people get a chance like this. The vast majority of people like us work their entire lives living paycheque to paycheque, scraping together money here and there to complete minor renovations or upgrades to their homes. The vast majority of people in this town, affected by the tornado or not, are living in their homes, wanting new kitchens, new bathrooms, new flooring and some nice landscaping, and will never be able to do all they want to do because financially it simply isn’t possible for them.
What we suffered 6 months ago was substantial. We were traumatized and all of us affected were forever changed. People came from far and wide, driving down our street shaking their heads in disbelief for us “poor people”. Park Street was filled with despair, tears and fear of the future. By Fall, those people driving by could see signs of hope. Hi hoes, pick up trucks and hardhats descended on Park Street, the sound of hammers and machinery filling the air as on lot after lot, contractors worked together to begin the process of bringing us home. Passersby commented on who had been hired for each home and watched as each day the landscape of Park Street changed. Now, as Spring inches closer, our street is filled with promise. Houses are up, people are moving home, and soon the grass, flowers and trees will be replanted.All of that has taken place in just 6 months.
I know we are the lucky ones. I know we got to walk away and start over. And because I know that, and I suspect the others do too, we are quieter now. At first, people felt sorry for us. Pitied us. Didn’t know how we would get through it. We felt sorry for ourselves and we ourselves didn’t know how we would get through it. We had to be vocal and fight for what we felt we deserved. We spoke to the media because we wanted others to know how hard it was, how life changing it was, how unfair it was. To say that yes, we are hurting, yes this does suck, and please, don't forget about our town. We need help. Now, people look at our street and our houses being built and whisper about how "big" they are. How the majority of us opted for “in floor heating”. How we are making changes and upgrades to what we used to have. Wondering just what kind of insurance coverage we had to be able to build houses like that. Saying that it must be nice to be us. Brand new homes with all these upgrades while others across town, or across the street, live in the same homes and have the same issues with their kitchens, bathrooms, flooring and backyards that they did before the tornado. What do we have to complain about anymore?
While we lament over flooring and paint choices, others just want the answers we were lucky enough to receive months ago. Others just want to be treated fairly. Others just want to feel like they have been paying their insurance premiums all this time for a reason.
I can’t speak for the others on my street, but I can say that I myself have been humbled. After all is said and done, I am one of the lucky ones.
Now, it hasn’t and doesn’t come without a cost. One that is impossible to understand if you haven’t lived it, but others are paying a hefty price in their own situations too. Family relationships have suffered, marriages have suffered, people’s mental health statuses have suffered. And not just within the families whose houses have or will come down. Many, many people in this town have been prescribed anti anxiety and anti depression medications and are seeking counseling, not just those who lost their homes. People all over
felt sorry for us, the ones who lost their homes and were paraded all over the
news. I am now able to say that you
shouldn’t feel sorry for us. Anymore. We will be
okay. Now. Who you should be thinking about,
and wanting to help are those who are still waiting for answers. Those in surrounding neighbourhoods who also
had damage and have had to live amongst the repairs, renovations and
negotiations. Those who have had to wait
their turns. And those whose lives are
still on hold and have been for 6 months now, still fighting, still waiting for
answers, still wondering how they are going to get through this. Those who
won’t complain and won’t speak up about
their own situations because they feel guilty, thinking that they have no right
to complain when there are others in town who lost everything and are living
elsewhere while their new homes are being built. Ontario
I understand. And I think of them. This is why I am quieter about my own situation now. Because I know that eventually, it is all going to work out and that we will be better off. I do not want to flaunt that. I feel guilty about parading pictures of my new house on facebook...like its a slap in the face to those still waiting. I do not want to rub it in the faces of others who are struggling. I am grateful for what I have and will have.
You know, as I look back at all the blog posts I have written about this, I am so very glad I have blogged our journey from the beginning. What I have written and the feelings I have worked through infront of all of you in the last 6 months, are special for me to read back on. To see the changes in our situation and in myself as they have evolved. It may sound crazy that I feel good about working through this in such a public way, but I do. I am proud of this blog and so glad I have captured all the emotions I have experienced from one extreme to the other over the last 6 months. This will be a treasure to me in the years to come, and I hope to my children too. I know it has helped different people to understand, has validated the feelings others in similar situations had, and it has provided my extended family with an understanding of what I was feeling but couldn't put into words. I don't believe anything negative has come from this blog. I have gained and re established friendships and had conversations with people I never would have otherwise. I think it has created a community of understanding, respect and encouragement among its readers and facebook page and of that, I am proud.
We have been told we should be in by the end of March. I am cautiously optimistic, but tell people we will wait and see. As of today the wiring, plumbing and hvac has been completed and the process of insulating the house has begun. The kitchen is being ordered next week and I have chosen paint colours and flooring for the upstairs and main floors. Our shed has been framed in and roofed and our garage doors are in. The next steps are to finish insulating and begin hanging drywall.
I dream about tornadoes from time to time, and when driving through areas that were heavily affected that day such as my neighbourhood, or coming into town on
Street from Saltford, or reaching the area
beginning at the corner of Huron
Rd and Picton Streets, I get flashbacks. Sometimes, for reasons I can't explain, I still get choked up. When I pull up to a red light at the KFC
corner of the 5 points, I remember the day the female OPP officer demanded to
see my ID before allowing me to turn left towards Park Street. I can still see where the firetrucks were parked and
where the trees had fallen. When I drive by Patti's house I remember walking through it that night in the dark and walking around the corner with her towards my street. When I come to the corner of Cambria Rd and Park Street I remember how that intersection was completely impassible and full of fallen trees and wires. When I plan out new rooms in my new house, my initial thoughts always go to the old rooms in the old house and I have to remind myself that's not what they will look like anymore. And yes, if I
concentrate, I can still hear the sirens.
I think Jack will be okay. He still talks about it, but not as much, and he still has questions about storms but doesn’t seem as fearful. I do think that Makenna has changed since August, but I don’t know for sure if it’s a result of the tornado, or the age she is at, or the year she is having at school, or a combination of many factors. I believe both of them will be scared of wind and storms for years, and I worry about how they will react to the thunderstorms that are sure to roll in this summer. I have heard from numerous people that the Farmer's Almanac is predicting more instances of severe weather around the Great Lakes, including tornadoes, but I can't yet allow myself to think about it.
As for me?
Rest assured, this blog series is not over yet. As I read back on this I realize maybe it sounds like an ending, but it isn't. At the 6 month mark, I know I am a different person. I suffered a serious trauma and was shaken to my core. I look back at how I handled and reacted to things and see how messed up I was. What happened has changed me and for...I would say...5.5 months, I was struggling to keep my head above water. It's been hard. Very very hard.
But today, I am very calm as I write this, and I do think I'll be okay in the long run, but that's largely because my situation will be okay. I cannot imagine functioning well if I was still in limbo, still not knowing what was happening to my house 6 months after the fact. And knowing that there was still so much to go through once decisions were finally made. My heart truly aches for the people who still have so far to go...who still have so much to sort out and deal with before they can say their lives have returned to "normal". They are the true victims in this situation, not me.
1 month from now, on March 21, 7 months after the tornado...hopefully it will be very close to our turn to go home...
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