After the Storm: Insights for Handling the Physical and Emotional Toll of a Disaster

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On Good Friday in 2009, just before we had our regular CSA pickup, a tornado hit the farm, taking with it all four of our high tunnels (lots of plastic and metal!). Our flock of sheep were picked up and thrown onto a road fence. Our chicken barn was destroyed, along with many fences and plenty of trees. Our house and lives were miraculously spared.

Just a few days after the March 2020 tornadoes devastated many areas in Tennessee, I was approached to write this essay. My editor thought perhaps after experiencing and recovering from a tornado myself, I might be able to offer some insight to those so recently affected. Despite feeling inadequate, I quickly accepted. When tragedy strikes, the thing we need to know is that it’s all gonna be OK; it just might take a while to be OK again. Here are just a few things it is OK to experience after a disaster.

Photo credit: Ganesh Partheeban via Unsplash

You might be angry.

I’m not proud of this, but a law enforcement officer told me I might have some anger issues after the tornado. He even said I might want to see someone about those issues. He also suggested I get a dumpster to put all my plastic in instead of burning it, because he couldn’t let me do that. This dumpster news didn’t help my aforementioned anger issues. After he left, despite his warning, I considered continuing to burn my plastic and wood due to my said anger. However, I quickly realized getting mommy out of jail would likely not help my boys heal from the tornado any faster. Thank goodness for kids! I didn’t want a dumpster. Dumpsters cost money, and I’d just lost most of the income-producing area of my farm in about 10 seconds. I felt anger at myself for not protecting my family better. Anger at how much needed to be done just to get back to ground zero. Anger at the fact that there are rules to cleaning up. In retrospect, a lot of my anger was actually fear. Fear of what could have been or what might be again and certainly fear of the unknown ahead. It is OK to be angry. Anger can be just enough of a motivator to get you through this tough time. Just manage it and don’t burn any bridges (or plastic).

See more: How You Can Help the Tennessee Tornado Victims

You might not sleep.

I didn’t. Every time I shut my eyes, I relived it. What should I have done differently? How do we prevent this from happening again? Are we going be OK financially? It’s heavy stuff. I’m here to tell you it’s normal. You will eventually sleep soundly again. It’s just going to take some time, so be nice to yourself. Get a good book and a cup of tea, and don’t stress about not sleeping. It will happen in its own good time. Just be gentle with yourself, and be gentle with those around you. Everyone heals from tragedy differently; cut each other some slack.

It will be a milestone.

Oh, I know you don’t want it to be, but it will. Your life will now consist of “before the tornado” and “after the tornado.” Just like other life milestones such as marriage and kids, things are likely to be radically different after the tornado. The way you rebuild. The way you treat emergencies. The way you respond to others. Whether you want it to or not, this experience will change your life in many ways.

My list would not be complete without faith.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.” When what lies ahead of you is too big for you to grasp and you feel your hope slipping away, faith kicks in. For me, Jesus is there through every second of it all. Anything good that happens in the midst of the tragedy is from Him. No matter your beliefs, don’t lose your faith.

See more: Tornado Safety Tips

You’ll be amazed by how much you are loved.

People will show up with food, drop in (with food!) and press money into your hands instead of a simple handshake. Letters will arrive in the mail (from people you know and some you don’t) encouraging you, telling you it will be OK for you just like it was for them in their crisis. People will offer to watch your kids (and bring food!). Cleanup days will be organized for you. Farmers, technically your “competition,” will bring a trailer of transplants out of their supplies to help you get your farm jump-started again (or maybe that only applies to us!). Hope will creep in. You will be so surrounded by love and compassion that you will begin to believe that it will be OK. Let these people help. It’s therapeutic for all involved. You need each other now more than ever. It will be OK. 

About the author: Julie Vaughn runs Rocky Glade Farm in Eagleville with her husband and four boys. Read her story about the 2009 Good Friday tornado, here. Learn more about her farm at rockygladefarm.com.

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