(As you follow Ann’s story, pay close attention to the stages she went through as she faced this tragedy. It might help you share goodness to someone else in the future.)
Upon returning to her ransacked house, Ann said that shock was the first emotion she experienced. Ann lost virtually everything in the flood that stunned the city of Nashville, Tennessee in early May of 2010. If you have ever been robbed, then you know the feeling of being violated that comes with such an offense. Now imagine if the perpetrator had defiled every single thing in your home – if he left his mark on everything. This is what Ann faced as she entered what used to be her sanctuary – her home.
Ann was robbed by the torrents of water that invaded her house. Soggy filth and stench covered everything that wasn’t washed away. Her once orderly home was upside down, disheveled and in ruins. She noted the oddities of the situation – how the force of the rushing current had upturned the refrigerator, and yet the linens and pillows on her bed were untouched, exactly as they had been when she left. We puzzled at the fact that solid wood actually floats, so her beautiful wooden bed had literally risen up on the water, and then settled back to the ground as the flood receded. What an eerie scene that must have been to have a bed levitating undisturbed in the midst of such chaos just below it.
After shock, Ann said she was overcome with a sense of urgency. She felt an overwhelming need to return home and try to salvage anything she could. Time was of the essence. Everything that remained was soaking in filth and the quicker it could be sorted; the more likely something might be spared. Ann’s family came to help, but a job of this magnitude would take many hands. Neighbors and strangers did come to her aid, but as helpful as that was, urgency quickly turned to a sense of being completely overwhelmed.
Ann was surrounded by a blur of faces, all asking her hundreds of questions. What can I do? How can I help? Where does this go? Do you want to keep this? While many of these were necessary questions, Ann noted how helpful it would have been for people to just take the initiative to do the obvious things that needed to be done. I realized from listening to her that in such a time, it is often appropriate to use your best judgment and just help. Do not wait to be told or burden the victim with 100 questions – just do what you see needs to be done. The risk of making a mistake pales in comparison to the benefit of just taking action.
Frustration soon overtook her sense of being overwhelmed as Ann faced the realities of how to live now. There were the hundreds of phone calls to turn off utilities, check on policies, and update services. There were countless decisions to be made and endless problems. It became a tangle of red tape and hoop after hoop to jump through. One of Ann’s greatest frustrations was that people would ask her how she was, then start in on their own problems or begin telling her other horror stories they had heard. She told me candidly how painful it was to feel like your own tragedy had to compete with endless tales of other people’s misery. She wanted to feel that the person listening to her cared about her and her loss. I was reminded that being present and engaged with the person who is suffering is so important. No one wants to hear other war stories when they are living their own.
Finally, as you can imagine, grief and sadness set in as Ann came to grips with what had happened to her. Those feelings were still haunting her as we sat together, several months after the initial loss. I was reminded that working through grief takes time and adds to the burden of someone going through a traumatic time. Those suffering loss need to be given extra respect and understanding, even when the immediate event that hurt them has passed and become a mere memory to others around them.
Ann went through: Shock, Urgency, Frustration, Feeling Overwhelmed, then Grief and Sadness as she tried to cope with the natural disaster that struck her life. Knowing these stages may help you help someone else in this situation.
She also noted these things:
- In a crisis, use your best judgment and help rather than asking the victim so many questions.
- If you really want to know how the victim is – then be prepared to listen.
- Don’t tell a suffering person about other horror stories you know – this does not help and makes them feel that their story has to compete with someone else’s.
- Grief is an exhausting process that takes time. Respect and understanding bring healing.
“Goodness jumps in with both feet and both ears”
A “Good” Idea :
Visit us next week to read Part 3 of Ann’s story and follow this series on Goodness in Special Circumstances.