Monday, November 18, 2013

What I Wish I Could Tell My Midwestern Tornado Victim Friends

I call them friends because when you've waded through something so deep and ugly and come out breathing on the other side, anyone else who later tromps in your footsteps somehow becomes your friend.

I knew after May 20th that I was now gifted (though I agree this is an odd word to use) with a unique card of compassion--of empathy rather than sympathy--for those who would later become the unsolicited victims of such a horrifying and merciless decimation of their world by a tornado. Really, by any disaster because truly, the ache is the same. I did not think that wisdom and experience of one such misadventure would turn up only 6 months after my own left me reeling.

Once I gained composure in the weeks that followed and began allowing my mind to venture ahead toward future happenings where I would possibly be of help or comfort to someone one day, I imagined what I would feel as I watched the next tornado engulf another land. I know how I felt the day before I became a national news story, but I wondered how I'd feel after. Would I be able to watch the footage of the storms as they ripped through, uncaring of who or what they ravaged? Or would this be something I will never be able to witness again, at least not without vomiting? I have looked at a few of the images, read the statistics. My heart sits heavy, naked with the still raw throb of my own undoing. And when I thought there was no room to carry more pain on others' behalf, it has found its seething way into the still open wounds.

I see the shock on the residents' faces, and I know.
I hear the panic in their voices, and I know.
I see the splintered pieces twisted and thrust, and I know.
I hear the noises--the machinery's incessant beeps, the deafening tornado sirens, and I know.
The weeping--I know.
The desperate prayers--I know.
The questions--boy do I know.

I wish I could hug them all and let them tell me in how ever great detail they need of what was where and how it felt, how it sounded, how it smells.
The smell...I don't believe I will ever forget. I look at the haunting images on my computer screen, and more than anything, I can smell it. It is a smell that you don't forget, and one you must ponder a while in order to describe.

I would tell them that it will get better, even though today that seems impossible. And tomorrow it will still seem impossible, but one day soon--maybe in five or eight or fourteen days, it will slowly start to sting less and less. I would tell them that supplies will come from places they have never heard of, and to receive them without shame. I would tell them to give themselves permission to collapse, for a while. I would tell them that when someone asks what they can do, tell them, and let them do it. Don't worry about thank you cards. No one cares, and those who do, didn't give for the right reason. I would tell them to get help with emotional healing when they are ready. The pain will not simply dissipate. You will wake up in the middle of the night reliving every second. You will think you hear tornado sirens when it's in fact just a car wash vacuum cleaner. You may never feel comfortable around an air force base or airport because the jet planes do indeed sound like the monster that destroyed your world and will surface emotions you didn't realize your heart had tucked away. But one day you will hear a test tornado siren, and you will suddenly realize that it did not scare you this time. Did it scare you the last time? You won't remember. Healing will sneak up on you, just as this devastation knocked the wind out of you.

I would say to unleash every ounce of your anguish on God, because well, I've learned that He can handle it. He already knows every aching thought you have. Give them to Him; don't hold them in. Healing will come eventually, but in the right now--I hurt alongside you. I have an entire community that does as well. They care because they have lived your hell and know the demons you face. Our prayers are and will continue to pour out on your broken behalf.

Peace of Christ to you,


  1. You are a treasure and those are the exact reason's we've been tuned into you and your neighbor's and loved ones after May 20th when Mother Nature decided to unleash, yet again, another Monster of a Storm over you. I can't stay away from coverage of these disaster's either it's almost the opposite of what you'd think one would do after going through the same thing. They told us it'd be 20 years before we'd 'get over it' well it's been 39 now and I'm convinced it'll always be the same. Blessed to be alive and have used that to brighten other's lives while going through my own, knowing that at any moment....Everything can be taken from you, including your life. Live everyday w/love and compassion and be kind and spread Peace while left here on this Earth. Thank you so much for this post! Hugs to you and yours! Prayer's... Love, Redbird

  2. Cara, you not only have the gift of heartfelt empathy with others who go through a tornado; you are an EXCELLENT writer, a gifted writer. I say that as a 30-year veteran English teacher. In fact it is on a former student's FB page that I found your post shared, and that former student survived the Moore tornado in one of the schools hit there. Thank you for writing; your words touch lives.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words of encouragement.

  3. Thank you so much for this post. I was huddled in our church basement during the Washington, IL tornado. I live in a different town so my home was untouched. But I spent that day and several weeks with my friends/church family whose homes were destroyed. I appreciate your blog. It gives me insight into the trauma my friends are still going through, makes me want to hug them tighter each Sunday.

  4. Cara, this is SO true. Before we were hit, we hurt for everyone who went through something like this. I lost my dad in a fire when I was 17, so I know catastrophic loss from something totally out of your control. That experience gave me empathy, but not in such a profound way as actually experiencing all of the losses myself. Now I have lost even all of the things I have that were gifted to me after losing my dad. I tell you, this is just the craziest and most surreal experience of my lifetime up to this point. Before our tornadoes, we would pray and help people. Now, we tell people we are praying every day. And every time the weather kicks up anywhere where folks will lose everything due to a catastrophe or fire. And the feelings we feel are this. It's not just feeling empathy for those precious people. It's PERSONAL. Every single loss is personal to us now. I believe that is how God intends it to be. We just get bogged down by the pace of life and the repetitiveness of it. Not anymore. It's personal. God is wanting us to pray with our hearts for folks, and not just our minds. After this experience, we don't want to go back to that way of thinking, living, and praying. Blessings!