I tried so many times to write about the flood. I spread as much positivity as possible during that terrible time and I wanted to share what the roller coaster of emotions was really like. However, I never had the words. Honestly, I lost my voice entirely for a bit. I tried to write to make sense of things and I just didn’t have the words.
At times, I was able to muster a paragraph or maybe two, yet I could never flesh out a complete thought. I saved those bits and pieces, hoping that I might be able to finish the thought eventually. Now, a year later, I still haven’t been able to make sense of it. So instead of sharing some eloquently written piece about the struggles, I’ll share the incomplete bits and pieces. These broken and scattered thoughts are actually a very accurate portrayal of what our reality was – broken and scattered. A year ago today, we faced a disaster that we would have never expected to face. We learned what a tragedy of this sort is really like and experienced firsthand the magnitude an event like this has on every aspect of your life. Our lives were shaken to the core and we experienced a range of emotions that we didn’t know we had. Our marriage was tested. The quality of our friendships were put on display for us, and we learned so many hard lessons in a matter of months.
Even a year later, I still haven’t been about to write something that fully communicates what we experienced in 2016. For now, here are the bits and pieces that I put into words as we were navigating our new reality.
Life can change in the blink of an eye. There’s no denying that. And suddenly, on a random March evening, I experienced firsthand how true that frequently used statement can be. On March 9, 2016 at around 6:30 pm, my home took on water from what has now been declared a natural disaster. In the blink of an eye, our day went from an average rainy, dreary day to one that will probably change the trajectory of our lives forever. Without a doubt, the next year or so will certainly not play out as Matthew and I anticipated.
I began searching for the words to write this post while sitting at the bar in the home of a dear friend. Plastic tubs of miscellaneous belongings are stacked near the door, as Matthew and I plan to leave the place we’ve called “home” for the last 8 days. We never knew how grateful we’d be to have a roof over our heads and we’ll forever be grateful for the friends who didn’t ask questions, who simply moved things around and made a spot for us to sleep until we could make a plan for what’s next.
Looking back on the evening of March 9, the occurrences still feel like a blur. I remember feeling like we’d be okay up until that last minute that the water came through my front door. While many of the specifics come to me at random, the memory that will never escape me is that of stepping off my sidewalk, into the street where flood water was immediately well over my knees. Just 1 to 2 houses down, the water continued to rise to my chest. With the dark skies and rain pouring down around me, I’ll never, ever forget that feeling of helplessness and fear. Matthew and I trudged through the water, doing our best to not trip and fall. We carried garbage bags of last minute items above our heads, hoping to keep them dry. I will never forget saying encouraging words to myself out loud as we walked along, doing my best to process what was going on around me. I told myself out loud, with tears filling my eyes, that we’d be ok. We were going to make it and the home we were leaving behind was just a material thing. The belongings that filled that home were just “stuff.”
I won’t forget seeing our friend coming towards us, waist deep in water, trying to take some of our belongings so that we could make it the rest of the way to his vehicle. This scene played out like that in a movie; a hero showed up to save the day and we found some last minute strength because of the encouragement of that salvation. No matter what, after everything was over and done with, I know that image will never leave my mind. I still see it as I close my eyes at night, and I’m sure it’ll still send chills down my spine and bring tears to my eyes for months or years to come.
A little over two months later, I worked to finish this story. From the living room of a duplex we were able to rent for a short time, I sat there processing the events of an emotional day. We’re much farther along than we were when I started to write this. We’ve lived in a camper in the front yard for over a month. We’ve worked hard and fast on making important decisions needed to rebuild as quickly as possible. We’ve had high points and very low lows. We’ve negotiated with insurance and fought with the mortgage company. Right now, as we sit on one of the new couches we purchased, 20 minutes from the place we call home, those memories above still feel like yesterday. When I count the days since the flood, I’m amazed to realize how much time has passed. Time that feels like one big blur.
Right now, the main thing I’m wishing for is a good night’s sleep where I’m not waking up constantly thinking about our situation and everything that must be done and figured out. The last several days have felt surreal and hard to process. Matthew and I are safe and way more fortunate than some. Our home took in 10.5 inches of water and we’re embarking upon the process to recover the damages.
Even now, I am so humbled by the outpouring of love and support we’ve received from our peers, and even strangers. On day one, I was blown away by the number of people that checked on us and offered help. It truly means the world to me to see our friends/family rise to the occasion. We are very lucky to have you all.
One of the main questions we’ve gotten is, “did you lose everything?” No, we didn’t lose everything, though we did lose a lot. What I’m learning about a loss like this is that it doesn’t hit you right away. The trauma of losing most of our personal belongings hits much, much later. It’s days or weeks later when you realize the impact of losing all your old home videos. Like the one of me at the zoo in kindergarten, where I say “I ain’t goin’ in there,” in the most country and matter-of-fact five year old voice. I was referring to the snake house, of course. Or the VHS of old CMT videos that your sister made you when she had cable at her house and you didn’t. Undoubtedly, I’ll never need a VHS of country music videos again. However, the fond memories of seeing that VHS with my sister’s handwriting on it were always welcomed. I’d held on to that old tape, even though I knew I’d never watch it again, because it spoke of a certain time in my life that I never wanted to forget. And even though that old VHS is gone now, I hope to never forget that John Michael Montgomery was the first video on there.
It’s losing your old baseball glove that you’ve had since t-ball…the one that your mom lovingly wrote your name in. It’s realizing that it’s gone forever and cannot be replaced. Ever. Even though you know that those things are indeed just “things,” it still sucks to lose them ALL so unexpectedly.
What I’ve learned is that going through a natural disaster like this is much like experiencing the death of a loved one, which unfortunately I’ve had my fair share of experience with too. You experience the same stages of grief. You mourn and feel anger and confusion. It’s also weeks after the original event that things begin to sink in. It’s after the volunteers have left and friends and family return to their usual lives that reality hits. Much like after a funeral when you’re expected to return to your regularly scheduled programming, it’s those next several weeks and months that prove to be the most difficult and most heart-wrenching.
I’ve struggled throughout this flood. I’ve mostly kept a positive demeanor and broken down only a few times. I’ve done my best to turn every negative and every complication into a positive. Even so, I’ve struggled on the inside. It’s been a daily battle to stay positive and focused. It’s been a war within me not to succumb to feeling like a victim, to not get caught in the trap of discouragement.
Then I saw the beloved Doris Roberts passed away at age 90, and I got a great dose of reality. I quickly realized that life is both short and long and that living life to its fullest, regardless of circumstance is what’s most important. It’s making the most of every situation, even the unfortunate ones, that separates the strong from the weak. And in the big scope of things, almost every single trial and tribulation pales in comparison to the grandeur of the lives we can live.
Right now I may be displaced. I may be in the throes of despair, and I may be unsure of what each coming day holds. Nonetheless, it’s temporary. And how I handle this one trial will prepare me for the next one. It’ll also set the tone for the kind of life I’ll lead and the legacy I’ll leave behind. You, too, may be facing something difficult. Just remember that over the entire course of your life, you must decide how you’ll handle these events. You must CHOOSE your attitude and your response. And you simply must remember that no matter how big and scary reality feels right this second, it’s only a small piece of reality in your life as whole. Keep fighting. Keep dreaming. And keep searching every day for the positive. I promise it’s there, even when it’s not readily obvious.
I scroll through Facebook aimlessly after reeling in some terrible news today and I’m caught off guard by how many posts aren’t acknowledging the bad news. Some live afar and don’t even know. Others live near and just aren’t affected. Reality sinks in that the majority of the world is carrying on with their lives as if nothing has happened.
I remember a similar sentiment after the flood. My world was completely upside down and I had to avoid social media for a bit because seeing that the rest of the world was carrying on, was a tad heartbreaking. Of course, one doesn’t expect the rest of the world to come to a screeching halt when something unfortunate happens to us. However, there’s still something unsettling about watching it continue to turn when you feel as if your world has been wrecked.
I think about this as I try to fall asleep and I can’t quite determine what I expect. I don’t expect every single person’s life to be affected by the trials of one. I don’t expect things to stop because someone needs time to recover. I understand that bad things happen all across the globe on a daily basis, and many times, we aren’t even aware of what’s happening to someone one street over, much less across the world. Even though I understand these things, I’m still saddened to realize how many people struggle on a given day and how most of us never even know. We come and go as always, not knowing that our own neighbors are hurting or need help. What does one do? I’m not even sure.
It’s been a year. A full year. A lot has happened and a lot has changed. Today brings with it a rush of memories, both good and bad. If I spend too much time thinking about the heartache, I begin to feel too emotional. Instead, I intend to look at today as a celebration of making it through. A celebration of the beautiful home we now have and a fresh perspective on life and loss. A celebration of our strength, both individually and together. It’s been a tough year in many ways, and I’m so happy to be able to say we’re in a much better place than we were last March. Here’s to 2017, another year that will bring with it its own surprises. I know now, that I can indeed persevere.
*Aerial photo taken by a neighbor.