On October 20th, life dramatically changed for me, my family, and many other families and businesses in North Dallas. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that a violent EF-3 tornado ripped through densely-populated residential and commercial areas that many of us frequent every day. The lives of many people were deeply affected, including my own.
In our case, the tornado ripped through our neighborhood and significantly damaged our home, to the point that it is no longer livable. Repairs are estimated to take half-year or more. Because we had such little warning of the storm, me, my husband, and three-year-old son had no choice but to endure the direct hit in our car when we couldn’t get back to our home in time or into our garage due to power loss. We watched our house being destroyed while having cinderblocks, fences, and trees batter our car. We didn’t know if we would make it, and we will never be the same. And, to top it off, I am heavily pregnant.
In the weeks since the tornado, I’ve had some time to process what’s happened and have had the chance to speak with others who were affected. While I can’t speak for every survivor, here is what I want you to know:
- Survivors of the tornado are still dealing with the effects of the storm every day.
As of this writing, it’s been a month-and-a-half since the tornado hit us. And I’m still dealing with the emotional and practical effects every single day. We are displaced from our home and lost most of our possessions. Every day has brought new logistical nightmares that I could never imagine having to deal with.
What I want you to know is that life is not normal for us and won’t be normal for a long time. While we have thankfully moved past the phase where getting through every single day is an overwhelming challenge, nothing is normal. We’re living in a house that’s not our own with a fraction of our possessions. We have to deal with contractors and insurance for hours every single day, so our time no longer feels like our own. And many of us are dealing with trauma.
I read an article recently discussing how for most of Dallas, life has moved on, and the tornado is now a blip in the city’s rearview mirror. Unless you drive through the affected areas that now look like war zones, it’s easy to forget that this happened. But please be sensitive to the fact that the tornado continues to deeply affect people’s lives.
- Please be mindful of how you talk about the tornado in public spaces.
In the weeks immediately following the storm, I can’t count the number of times I saw people gawking over photos of the tornado’s destruction or heard people complaining about the trivial ways in which the tornado has affected them, like increasing traffic. Please be aware that the person standing in line behind you might have a more personal and traumatic connection to the event, and overhearing insensitive comments like this doesn’t go over well. Additionally, my three-year-old son seemed confused at times as to whether there was another tornado, because he couldn’t easily process what he overheard people talking about in public spaces. (This helped.) Please remain mindful.
- If you don’t know what to say, just keep it simple.
If you didn’t know, now you do: Saying “at least you didn’t die” or “it could’ve been worse” to people who definitely thought they and their children were going to die and who are dealing with severe repercussions from an event is never a good idea.
Yes, we are grateful and thankful that nobody died or had significant injuries. I personally consider that a miracle. And I will be the first one to reflect on what’s happened and focus on gratitude. But at no point is it helpful to hear a sentence beginning with “at least” from someone who has no idea what you have been through.
And please, please don’t make it about yourself. Don’t try to compare this situation to some unrelated thing that you have experienced. Unless you personally have survived a natural disaster of the same magnitude, hearing about your experience will probably not be helpful. I myself have experienced all manner of loss and hardship in my own life, but those experiences have all been different than the grief and trauma I’ve experienced since the tornado.
If you don’t know what to say, just say “I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say. I can’t imagine what you’ve been through.” That is more than enough, and it means a lot.
- Every kindness shown to us after the storm really made a difference.
My overwhelming feeling after surviving this tornado is gratitude. Not just that everyone made it out safely, but that Dallas is filled with kind, generous people who were there for us in our time of greatest need.
I have done this in my personal life, but I want to say a generalized “thank you” to every single person who asked how we are doing. Who offered to move whatever items we could salvage out of our destroyed home. Who offered us clothing and baby items, knowing how much we have lost. Who helped us find temporary housing, offered insights on dealing with insurance, and who offered other substantive help. Who listened to us cry. Who took us out to lunch or coffee. Who gave us a hug. Who showed us patience and grace. Who opened their homes. Who offered to watch our child. Who were there for us in whatever ways they could think of.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.