I didn’t want my four-year-old daughter to be thrust into the agonizing side of reality, not this soon.
I knew this day would come, as it has for all of us, but I wanted to shield her from the pain of loss, the finality of death, and the worry of the unknown for just a bit longer.
But there are things I cannot control, so I am trying to see the positive.
Twenty days ago, I would not have been able to tell this story. But today I can.
Whether the “storm” you or your child faces is literal or figurative, may this message remind you that from within the painful depths of a scar, light can be found.
Bring on the light.
This is my story…
In the minutes after an EF2 tornado tore through my neighborhood upsetting the balance of tranquility and safety, my neighbors ran out of their homes. People began immediately surveying damage, moving fallen trees, removing mangled trampolines from unbelievable places, and placing tarps over punctured roofs and blown out windows.
All three exits and entrances to our community were impassable, so the only help we had was from each other.
Whether your own home had damage or not, everyone came outside. There was a need to be simply together, either assisting one another or processing what had taken us all by complete surprise.
Since there was no school, no electricity, and limited phone access, my daughters and I walked around the neighborhood for several hours, stopping to ask people how they were doing and asking them whether or not they had suffered damage.
As we walked, we continually spotted sights that made us gasp. It is not every day you see enormous, historic old trees completely uprooted like matchsticks along our daily thoroughfare. Suddenly you realize how truly small and vulnerable you are.
It was the trees without tops that disturbed my oldest daughter.
She said, “It looks like a huge axe came through and chopped off their loveliest part, Mama.”
My youngest daughter was especially perplexed by our good friends’ loss of their chimney. She perseverated on the fact that the tornado had just blown their chimney right off. It became her job to check every home we passed to see if they still had one.
If she couldn’t spot a chimney, she would point her little finger and with utter dismay report, “Their chimney blewed right off, Mama!”
She then was quick to note if they had a hole in their roof or missing shingles. Little did I know that surveying roof damage would become her latest obsession since Polly Pockets.
Later that evening a tornado of epic proportions was predicted for our area. This time we were prepared in the basement with a surplus of flashlights, a battery operated weather radio, water, and other necessities.
Thankfully, my husband was with us this time and had the insight to also gather our bicycle helmets, (which I take this opportunity to make a public apology to him for joking about his thoughtful, perhaps life-saving, action).
While many precious lives were lost, destroyed, and turned upside down in those horrific hours, my family remained safe, unharmed, and untouched. I am determined not to go a day without being thankful for that fact.
Our home and our possessions were intact; yet, it saddens me to realize that something was lost.
My four-year-old child’s perception that life is safe, predictable, and void of devastation and pain was completely wiped away.
I would like to deny this truth. I would like to say I am over-reacting. But I can’t and this is why…
Here is the new reality:
*My daughter doesn’t say “Nortado” anymore. She pronounces “Tornado” perfectly. It is now part of her frame of reference. She knows how to say it, what it does, and how it can literally tear life and limb from its innocent bystanders. Furthermore, she uses the words “destroy,” “dead,” and “orphan,” like they have always been part of her vocabulary.
*My daughter doesn’t live in the world of Disney movie endings anymore. She now knows that a kiss or a magic potion cannot bring people back to life once they have died. She knows many people were killed in the storm…even Mommies, even Daddies, even little children just like her.
*My daughter no longer believes that just because we live in a brick home we are safe from the destruction of the outside world. She saw with her own eyes that strong wind, flying debris and falling trees can make their way into the safe sanctuary of our walls. Furthermore, she heard her mother cry out to God, the only One who could protect them when all other sources of protection are futile.
*My daughter no longer thinks everything can be repaired instantly or return to “good as new” condition. She monitors the roof damage on certain houses in our neighborhood and asks me to drive by them daily. She is terribly disappointed to see many are still not repaired or that some are only half way finished. She now knows damage like this takes time and effort to repair. And she is sadly aware that some places, some people, and many lives will never be what they were before.
But then there is also this…
*My daughter doesn’t think she is too little to make a difference to someone in pain.
*My daughter realizes she has far too much and it is her DUTY to give some of it to someone who has less.
*My daughter now knows that when it is all said and done, she doesn’t want “stuff” in her hands; she wants a hand in her hand.
*My daughter now knows that if she were hurt or abandoned, God would send angels to come to her aid.
*My daughter knows she holds the words to ease someone else’s pain, and this is the gift she was meant to give in her lifetime on earth.
Those are the things I try to focus on when I wake up in the middle of the night with tears streaming down my face as I try to shut out the heart breaking stories and scenes of loss that are now engraved inside my brain.
And like my daughter, I too, am fixated on the blue tarps that still sit atop my neighbor’s roofs.
I find myself repeating this mantra:
A hole was made. Some rain got in…but so did some sunshine, so did some sunshine.
Then I think about my daughter’s heart:
A hole was made. Some pain got in. But so did some compassion.
And so did a greater understanding about the preciousness of life.
And so did her desire to help someone else in only the way that she can.
This was not the way I wanted her to learn these valuable lessons. This was not something I would have chosen for my daughter, for my neighbors, for the good people of my state.
But it happened. And you better believe I will use it for good.
A crack was made.
Some rain got in.
But now out of that very crack, light has come pouring out.
May my child’s newfound light shine where it is most needed.
Bring on the light.
I think we can all agree that life can be cruel, throwing us challenges and heartaches when we least expect it. It can be tough on us as adults, but we tend to worry most about how these experiences affect our children.
It may not be a tornado, but there are plenty of destructive forces that can change lives in a moment…divorce, disease, loss, death, financial problems, the list is long and devastating. But instead of seeing the scars upon our children (or on yourself) as purely negative, try and see the positive. Focus on the opportunity for growth, increased strength and character, and a chance to ignite a newfound compassion that did not exist before.
From the site of the scar a beautiful light can come pouring out. And the light might just be bright enough to heal a broken heart.
Indiana Lori says
I never thought about how might affect children until just now. When the hurricanes hit Florida, we didn’t have children, so it was just something to survive. Wow…this is eye-opening. I can’t imagine how scary that night must have been. Bless her little heart. Many hugs your way, Lori
Rachel Macy Stafford says
Thank you, Lori. It is truly amazing how deeply the tornado has impacted the children in my neighborhood. I can only think of what the children who actually survived the EF5 tornado must be experiencing. I pray they get the treatment that is needed to heal.
Thank you for sharing this – it’s wonderful. I love this line: “she doesn’t want stuff in her hands, she wants a hand in her hand”. Beautifully written!
Rachel Macy Stafford says
Thank you, Christi for the wonderful feedback. You have made me feel so good!
Beautifully written Rachel! Brought tears to my eyes. Made me think back to when Riley was Avery’s age and she lost her first dog, 2 great-grandpa’s (whom she was really close to) and a great- uncle all within a year. 3 of those deaths within months of each other. I so badly wanted to shield her from all the pain, but in the end I believe her going through this has lead to her being a extremely compassionate little girl. So you are right “bring on the light”
Rachel Macy Stafford says
Thank you for sharing, Heather. I can so related with what you have described. We want to protect our children from all the hurts and pains of life, don’t we? I think it is one of the hardest parts of being a parent.
the calibamamom says
I’m originally from Alabama, and had friends and family directly affected by that deadly EF5, on April 27, 2011. Living all the way out in California now (and for the last 17 years) I’d sort of forgotten about growing up in Tornado Alley. So God to the time to remind me, and hand me the resources to help. This is what we did: http://calibamamom.com/2012/04/27/well-i-couldnt-just-sit-here-and-watch-now-could-i/
Bless you and your family, keeping you safe forever.
MJ D. says
There are no words. I am in tears reading this for the first time ever. Like someone said before, without children, you just survive.. But with children, oh my goodness. Your little one is such a strong woman in the making. Thank you for sharing her / your story. My heart will never be the same.
Jenny Johnston says
I love that no matter which post I read of yours, it speaks directly to my heart. During the height of chaos we were experiencing with our 7 year old, I knew there was a reason we were living it. And now that we are “mostly” through, I see that there are actually MANY reasons…seeing the light in the darkness is so important, but it is also so hard.
I’m going to try harder to find these cracks of light in my family and our experience. I know there are more.
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