Friday, May 27, 2011

Daisy of the Flinthills - Healing from Tornadoes with the Gift of Music

We live about 20 miles from the recent tornado in Reading, Kansas.

Although only 200 people live there - it's still 200 people who are struggling with trying to balance their lives after the tornado sucked everything up and then dumped it back on their heads.   

Today my daughter and I cooked up a big batch of chili with our locally grown beef (and some homemade cornbread muffins).  Her Military Family Support Group (organized to support her and families like her of deployed soldiers) reached out to help others.  She delivered it to a group of families who are living in motel rooms in Emporia.  They had arrived at the motel with everything they owned which was nothing except whatever they had on their person when they took cover last Saturday night.

My step-brother's family survived the Greensburg, Kansas tornado. 

I happened to be in the general area for business meetings that night.  We met at a restaurant for supper.  Then they dropped me back off at my motel.  The next morning my co-worker woke me up to tell me that Greensburg had been destroyed.  I tried to call my step-brother.  He surprised me by immediately picking up his cell phone line.  They were all okay but they had been through a night that none of them will ever quite forget.  They were barracaded out of their town for the day and night while emergency crews searched homes and marked big X's with spray paint on the ones that had been cleared.  

I arranged for my co-workers to leave me there.  I called my husband to drive out to meet me the next day.  Then I made arrangements to spend time with Mike and his family.  But we were still several miles away from each other and neither one of us had a vehicle.  I was able to experience some of their challenges during the first days after the tornado.  There are things that non-tornado families don't understand and I hope to share here some  ideas with those of you who sincerely want to help.

"Everything" means everything.  Mike's family was so frustrated with the question, "So did you lose....?"  To which they would reply, "Everything".  To then be asked, "So does that mean you lost your car?    The truck?"  or  "Were you able to save any of your jewelry?"  or "That beautiful antique mirror in your living room?"   "EVERYTHING".  This question was so painful for them to answer over and over.  What did no one understand about the word everything?  And why didn't they realize that by verbalizing the list of lost, loved belongings, they were only stabbing at fresh wounds?  EVERYTHING.  

And a related well-meaning comment: "Maybe that would be a good way to think about it, that the tornado took everything and allowed you a fresh start on life," to which my niece replied ever so politely, "The problem was the tornado picked it all up, destroyed it, and then dumped it back on our heads."  Although the night of the tornado was like a horror movie for them, the two years of recovery and $1,000's of dollars clean up became a major part of her childhood, for better or for worse. 

So, how to really help?  I have some ideas from my experience with Greensburg. 

Vehicles:  Mike and family were without a vehicle.  They went from owning 3 to owning none in an hour.  So even though the Red Cross and others handed out debit cards, etc. there still was the obstacle of actually getting somewhere to get toothbrushes, underwear, etc.  And there were five people in their family.  So it became a shuttle type thing with the one small vehicle they could borrow a few hours a day from a relative.  A nightmare.  Which meant they were all stuck in a hotel room many hours a day, disoriented, with children reliving nightmares and eating whatever meals they could get by walking to the place or have delivered. 

Personal Items:  My nephew M (I'll call him M) was 10 years old.  He was very concerned about helping his family and he asked me to help.  He had made a list of the things that each family member needed most. I agreed to pay for his purchases.  I arranged to have us both dropped off at the mall on one of the shuttling trips.  We walked back over to the tv section twice during our visit because he needed to recheck the weather.  But he had a mission.

For Mom:  He picked out a bag - an overnight size pretty duffle bag.  She was carrying her brand new underwear and makeup in a Walmart bag and he thought she at least deserved to have something nice to put the few things she owned in.

For Dad:  A covered clipboard. The kind that the paper, pens and a calculator fit nicely inside and it can be closed up to keep it clean.  City people, insurance agents, FEMA people, social agencies - all were giving him phone numbers, business cards, and information that he would need as the days progressed.  But he had no where to keep it except his overstuffed wallet.

For his brother:  A portable music system - and I don't even know what it was.  But it was chosen with extra special care so that A could go to his cousin's house and download music quickly and easily.

A was 13 at the time.  He was at that awkward middle school age where music is his life; his escape, his center.  He went everywhere with earphones in his ears.  Except to the basement the night of the tornado.  Now he had silence.  Or music that adults listen to on the radio or tv.  And he was absolutely not going to whine about it to his parents who were also truely suffering.  But M, his younger brother, knew how much pain A was in.  They had both just survived an F5 tornado by holding on to each other in a tiny basement room.  A needed music to begin his healing.  M gave me the honor of helping to give this gift to his brother.  I am still so touched by the significance of him asking me to help.

So, a final thought - is there a way to begin a program for others like A who have recently survived a traumatic experience and are without their music?  My own son was in an oilfield accident at the age of 19 and spent months in surgeries and physical therapy learning to walk again.  His stereo system and his guitar were his coping mechanisms  He pushed through alot of pain by cranking up his favorite music to house-shattering levels.  I learned to love listening to it because I knew it soothed his soul.  Eventually it began to soothe mine.

Who's with me?  How do we start?  Surely iTunes or another online music download entrepreneur could see the value in linking up to help this unique over-looked age group heal through natural disasters by immediately replacing their music?

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