To read about how the tornado has affected our family from the beginning, click here.
Here we are at 10 months post tornado. I haven't given an update in the last few months because there really hasn't been much to say. For the most part - we're done. We are back in our house, we have grass and flowers and a vegetable garden again and as far as everyone on the outside looking in is concerned, things are back to normal for us.
So why today's update?
There are a few things I want to address.
10 months ago, when this all began, no one wanted to be me. People told me that, time and time again. That they couldn't imagine what we were going through, how we were going to handle it, or how we could come back from it. People felt sorry for us, pitied us, wanted to help us...but sure didn't want to be us or deal with what we were dealing with.
I began writing, as that has always been an outlet for me. I was blogging long before the tornado ever happened, and if you take the time to read through various posts I have written over the years, you will see that I have tackled various hot topics and hard issues in the past, and have always used this blog to work my way through difficult feelings/situations I was dealing with.
So, that's what I did after the tornado. And I posted each entry to facebook, just as I always had pre tornado. The difference now though, was that after reading what I wrote, people then posted the link to my blog to their own facebook profiles, so people I didn't necessarily know read it, and posted it to their profiles, and so on and so on. It started to snowball. I was then receiving friend requests and private messages through facebook from people that wanted to read more, but couldn't always find their way back to my blog's website. To make it easier, I created a "Story of Us" facebook page, so i wouldn't feel guilty about declining friend requests from people I didn't know. This way, if they wanted to read what I was writing, all they would have to do is "like" the facebook page to keep up to date.
Throughout this time, as I took great care and pain to describe exactly what it was like to be me, no one wanted to be me...no one would have traded places with me...except maybe my parents, because that's what parents do.
Then, eventually, things started to come together for my little family of 4. Our house started going up. Our insurance company did what it was supposed to. What we expected them to. And so did our contractor. We did everything we were supposed to, everything we were told to, and when necessary, we fought for what we were entitled to. I continued to write, and people started to take notice. Higher profile people. Some wanted to meet me. To put a face to the words. To expose our story to more people than I was reaching.
Meanwhile, the Goderich Disaster Relief Fund donation campaign was in full swing. In order for the fund to receive donations, people had to feel moved enough by what had happened to open their wallets. What makes people feel moved enough to open their wallets? When they learn of people's personal stories. This connects faces with the tragedy and makes it "real". They see the tears, hear the shaky voices, look into the eyes of those affected and realize it's not "just" a falling down church. It's not "just" businesses affected. Not "just a bunch of trees". That a family lost their husband and father. Forever. That children are afraid to go outside. That people of all ages can't sleep at night. That 4 year olds blame themselves. That marriages are on the brink of separation. That EMS personelle are struggling with the aftereffects. That people are homeless right before the beginning of a new school year, all because of a 12 second event. THAT is what makes people want to donate to a relief effort - when it becomes personal to them and they take a minute to imagine themselves in those positions.
Who makes all that happen? Who shares those stories with potential donors? The media.
The media moves in, and tells the personal stories of those willing to share them, in order to keep Goderich in the news, and keep what's going on in the minds of the viewers and readers of the region. The media bring the stories to the public, and the public are moved to open their wallets, to mobilize, and to donate time, resources, materials and manpower.
Yes, I agreed to speak to the media. Because I knew from the very beginning what it would take for people to really understand and open their wallets and hearts - they wanted and needed to see it and hear it from those directly affected. Not hear what the officials are "supposed" to say, not hear big flowery promises from politicians...but hear the real deal, from real people, on the street, at Ground Zero. No one from the town asked me to talk to the media. No one paid me to. I chose to. I did not and will not access one cent from the tornado relief fund and wasn't speaking to the media to further advance my own situation, I was trying to speak on behalf of others and give a glimpse to those unaffected into what it was like. After the first time I spoke to the media, I was told by them that I was good at it, that it came easily to me and that I appeared comfortable on camera, which made their jobs easier. As a result, my name was given to other media outlets and I was asked again, more than once, to contribute to the media coverage, and I agreed, because I believed in the cause, I was comfortable with it and I wanted to keep Goderich in the news too. I know there are many others worthy of media attention. I worked hard behind the scenes to bring one of those worthy stories to light. But not every story will be told because not everyone wants to or is comfortable speaking to the media. I am, so I do.
If no one spoke to the media, if no one told their stories...do you really think Goderich would have recieved all of the help it has?
I was not compensated financially for contributing to Not like Any other Sunday either: no one was. Once again, I believed in the cause it was contributing to; Victim Services of Huron County. An organization I was a part of before the tornado, and from which I and so many others received so much help from immediately after.
Later on, because of my writing, I was asked to teach a class on blogging. In lieu of being paid, I asked to be enrolled in 2 other workshops hosted by the same organization. My choice.
By the time that happened, we were back in our house.
And, it seemed, people had suddenly forgot all that time they had spent being grateful they weren't me. They had come to their own conclusion that it wasn't really so bad being me afterall.
They saw the house I was in, saw that it was bigger than the previous one on this property, saw me in the media, saw that I was teaching a blogging class, and began to make all kinds of judgements and assumptions.
"full two story house instead of 1 1/2".. "Why is it so much bigger?" ... "in floor heat when there wasn't before"... "Bigger kitchen than before" ..."Sod instead of grass seed" ... "increased equity and overall financial stability", "acquired many other benefits because of the tornado" "look at that deck...they didn't even have one before!" ... "I wish the tornado had taken out my house so I could get a brand new one"..."you won the lottery!"... "must be nice"... "you sure have nothing to complain about..."
Some even went further than that, and that's when I realized I had become a target.
"Why is she on the news again?!"
"Seems I remember hearing that the firemen got a page to report to your home to help clear it out while so many others didn't have that opportunity (That one I will address directly right now: I barely saw my husband for days after the tornado, my friends emptied my house because my husband was busy and none of our family was allowed into town to help us. I blogged the specifics around that pretty clearly. The Goderich Fire Department as an official organization certainly were not paged to my house nor did they have anything to do with clearing it out on August 23. They were kinda busy. 2 weeks later, some of the firemen helped us move into our rental home, on their own time, because they are our friends. No one was paid, no one responded in fire vehicles or with fire gear. And no, no one else had THAT opportunity, but no one else in that situation's closest friends are all firefighters. And, if we really want to get into it, no one else had to deal with becoming homeless and vehicle-less, with 2 small children in tow while on their knees from toxic gas fumes, all alone, because they had absolutely no family in this town and their husband and brother were firefighters helping everyone else in this town, putting the needs and safety of their own wife/children/sister/neice/nephew last on the priority list, either.) That inaccurate statement didn't just target me, it targeted and smeared the entire Goderich Fire Department's professionalism, and was completely out of line.
"She is just exploiting those children for her own personal gain".
"Personally I hope we don't hear from you again until those who don't have big mouths and poor me attitudes are back in their homes too".
"You say you're resilient? Get over it...seems there are others far more resilient than you".
"It has become abundantly clear that 'your story' is far more important than anything else in your life and you relish the power and clout you have established from it."
10 months ago, no one wanted to be me.
8-9 months later, when we appeared to come through the other side, when we got what we paid monthly premiums for years for, when we got what we were entitled to, and deserved from an insurance company that (gasp) did the right thing... some people seemed to forget or minimize all we had been through in order to get it.
I blogged about moving home. About being "happy" to have finally reached this point in our journey. I was told that blogging about my own happiness was selfish and a slap in the face to those still waiting, still fighting. I was told I had a responsibility to those "at risk" and was hurting them by focusing on myself.
I was told that by drawing attention to the struggles of others and choosing to make this blog a more interactive and public forum, that this was not just about me and "my story" anymore and I needed to be very aware of how my words, my focus and my happiness, were hurting those who had looked to me for "support, caring and understanding". That "they" now felt as though I was putting on an act with them. I was told all of this by a third party, supposedly speaking on "their" behalf.
Because others hadn't reached where I was, I wasn't allowed to write about being happy? No one had told me not to blog about being sad or pissed off or frustrated when others weren't...was I supposed to apologize for an insurance company and contractor that did the right thing when others didn't? Was I supposed to stop sharing my story because of the way it compared to the stories of others? Had I not, from the very beginning been trying to convey the message that you can't compare? You can't know what this is like because everyone's situation was different? There are many different kinds of suffering and everyone responds differently...to tell someone they have no right to say anything because someone else's situation is worse, or to tell someone they need to "get over it already" or that they are "tired of hearing about it" minimizes their feelings, their value, and perpetuates a whole host of social and mental difficulties.
I am curious how many people that were directly affected by the events 10 months ago, can now say they are completely over it. As the years go on of course I will have a different perspective on it...but 10 months? really?
I was told that because others were still in pain, it was irresponsible and insenstive of me to be blogging the way I was.
I issued a pointed reminder that people choose to read this blog - no one is forced to, and that if someone didn't like it, perhaps they should stop reading. The reply was that the people hurt were advised to stop reading, yet for whatever reason "they" kept coming back. And I keep hurting them.
Well, I'm sorry, but I will not change or censor this blog to appease others. I am not being commissioned by the town, an insurance company, my employer or any media outlet to write this blog. It is mine, it is mine it is mine. My thoughts. My feelings. My opinions. My terms. I have made that clear over and over again. I cannot control anyone else's reactions to it, nor am I responsible for anyone else's reactions to it.
My professional life was even attacked, when it was suggested to me that (and I quote) "if you want to advertise and promote and spend so much of your time focused on 'your story' blog and on those NOT at risk.....then ......why not consider moving on and leave space (at your job) for a more caring and selfless person better suited to fill the needs of the REAL at risk..."
That's where I've been the last couple months. That's how "back to normal" its been for me.
10 months ago, no one wanted to be me. And now?
Now, I have a new house with upgrades (Some of which we paid for ourselves), a new yard, a new deck and driveway (which we paid for ourselves) a mortgage to go with it and substantially higher property taxes. No one on the outside looking in has any idea what the status of our "financial stability" is. All 4 of us are still uneasy about the weather. I am not complaining about that. I am fine with all that, expected all that and am at peace with all that.
With that has also come whispers behind my back, back handed comments made directly to my husband's and my faces, and hatemail sent right to my inbox, all from those who have no idea what they are talking about, have no right to judge and assume life is pretty sweet for me now.
There's one word for it: Bullying.
People from within our own community.
Trying to villify or make those whose lives were turned inside out 10 months ago feel guilty because they have been able to move forward while others still struggle? As if it's our fault? People from right here in our own community spreading hate, smearing names and reputations, gossiping, judging and bullying. People from right here at home trying to tear others down.
I suppose I opened myself up to that by choosing to blog our story. And I don't regret that. I believe I have helped more people than I have supposedly hurt. By making my story public, I have earned the right to be criticized and judged. I can accept that, if it is respectful, or constructive.
But, to be verbally attacked, going as far as to call my professional integrity into question, not caring that I am someone's mommy, someone's daughter, someone's grand-daughter, sister, friend...someone's wife - all of whom know what was said and all of whom I have stayed true to throughout this past year:... to make grand, sweeping general statements about what is perceived to be my life now... that, in my opinion, is crossing the line. If people have the right to do that to me.... well then I also have the right to defend myself.
And defend myself I will.
I am not a child.
This is not highschool.
I am a 32 year old mother, a survivor of an F3 tornado and much more, and will not be bullied.
Because this is my story.
I will not go silent because someone doesn't like it. I will continue to write whatever I want, whenever I want. That is the choice I am entitled to make. Read it at your own risk, or don't read it at all. That is the choice you are entitled to make.
I am responsible and accountable to my husband, and my children. None of what I have written, has hurt them.
10 months ago no one wanted to be me. These days, being "me" may not be what you think it is.
I'm not angry. What's the point? Anger doesn't get you anywhere, it doesn't change anything, it doesn't make the haters go away. It is what it is, and you can't please everybody. I am outspoken and don't feel I have done anything wrong. I welcome respectful differences of opinion, I welcome intelligent conversation about differing views, and I welcome the opportunity to learn from others.
But this? There was nothing respectful, nothing adult, about it. There are many successful ways to get a point across. Bullying, intimidation and name calling are not among them. What has been said to and about me and my family, says far more about those speakers and writers, than it does about me and my family.
As a society we are spending millions of dollars trying to teach our young why bullying is wrong and how damaging its effects can be, and we wonder why it doesn't seem to be working.
Maybe it's because it's still being perpetuated by adults, the ones who are supposed to know better...every.single.day.
Luckily I grew up in a family where I was taught to never, ever, give up on what I believe in.
I believe in this town, its rebuild, and residents with good and honest intentions coming together to help eachother, in whatever ways they can.
I believe in The Story of Us.
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