Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Post Workplace Abuse: Trauma and Tornadoes

Sifto Salt Mine, Goderich Harbour, Goderich, Ontario, July 2014
 Looking at the above picture of the Sifto Salt Mine operation at Goderich, Ontario taken less than two weeks ago, it's hard to believe that a small but powerful tornado hit the town in August, 2011 barreling down the harbour past the plant, killing one person who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and basically levelling the downtown area of this lovely town.  (Please click on the links for more information, especially the link identified as tornado it is linked to the newspaper article in the aftermath of the tornado).

It was a major blow.  For the town.  For tourism which the town thrives on.  For the people whose homes were blown away and apart.  Especially for the family whose loved one died that day.  All he was doing was working at the mine.  Unfortunately, he was working above ground, not in the mine itself safely hidden under the lake.

Major rebuilding had to occur.  Along with major healing.

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For a better look at the Goderich tornado damage in the immediate aftermath, please check out the link provided.  The pictures are heartbreaking in their intensity, in their devastation.

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Major rebuilding did have to occur.  Eventually.  But not that same day.  Nor even the day after.  It took weeks, months, even a year or more before houses were rebuilt, damages to those structures still standing and deemed repairable, trees replanted, etc.  Insurers had to be contacted.  Contractors as well for places that had to be rebuilt.  Processes to be followed.

Take a look at the pictures below which were taken in May, 2012 approximately 9 months after the tornado.

A main street in Goderich leading down to the beach and harbour areas.
Most businesses were by then operational.  This street houses my favorite store in Goderich, the Christian book store.  Pictures in the paper in the aftermath of the tornado showed the street littered with scrap and debris from the buildings.  I feared for this independently run store and it's owners, yet when I visited nine months later, they were still in business.  I asked them about it.  It turned out that just a week or so before, they'd had their front windows reinforced which meant that they had sustained relatively minor damage.  The sign on the front was damaged - and still has not been repaired to the best of my knowledge.  They've partially covered it with a banner. They said that they were one of the few businesses to remain operational in the immediate aftermath of the tornado.  People just had to enter the back door rather than the front.

The courthouse where a farmer's market was taking place.
I never thought to take pictures of Goderich on previous trips, I guess because I felt it wasn't picture worthy.  We went there for day trips at least once a year or so.  It was pretty much like the couch in the living room.  Always there.  Not changing.  So I don't have any photos from this view so you can visualize "before".  However, before the grounds were covered in large trees which were blown down and shattered in the tornado and, therefore, had to be removed.  Before was not as sterile or barren, it was lush with life, laughter and vitality.

Damage still evident on the main traffic circle in town
Although most businesses were able to repair and reopen, some were not and scars still remained on the buildings evidence that something traumatic had taken place in this lovely, tranquil town.  Something no one expected or foresaw.  Something no one had control over.  The tornado came up from across Lake Huron so fast that very few people even knew it was happening until it was all over.  Within 20 minutes, the event had happened, the damage had occurred and the sky had turned bright  blue with white clouds.  Except for the damage littering Goderich, sirens, etc., it would be hard to believe that something that traumatic, that life altering had taken place just minutes before by looking at the sky.

Down at the harbour, Sifto Salt is still repairing the damage
 This picture spoke to my heart as a visual about damage and how long it takes to repair.  And we're talking about physical damage here.  What you might call "external" damage.  Damage that can be seen to the naked eye.  I have no idea what this view looked like mere hours after the tornado.  I wasn't there.  Non-residents were advised to stay away, to give the emergency workers room to assess and work.  But what about internal damage.  Damage such as emotional trauma.  Damage not visible to the naked eye?  What about it?


Nine months later, repair and restoration were still happening.  Work in progress was still visible.


Nine months later, life was not back to normal.  Getting close, but not there yet.  I was told about one family who had lost their home in the tornado.  It had just been rebuilt and they were finally back in their own home.  Nine months later.


The aftermath of tornadoes and trauma just doesn't magically disappear after a short period of time.  It takes work - and courage - to repair and rebuild.

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If  physical damage takes so long to restore and repair, what about people like me?  And you?  What about our damage?  Damage that no picture can capture?  Damage that is internal?  Damage that is emotional?

What about the emotional "tornados" that trounce through our lives, leaving no markers in their wake?  No physical debris littering the scene.  No sirens of emergency personnel or vehicles.

Just quiet.  Unless you can hear the tears.  The screams that reverberate in the victim's soul but don't penetrate through their mouths.

But what would you think, what would you perceive and assume, if you could hear them?  If I did wail heartbrokenly in my misery and devastation?  What you understand?  Or at least try to understand?  What would sit with me and embrace me in your love?  Or would you be a Job's comforter and give me useless words of advice and "wisdom"?  Words that sound good to you, but leave me feeling cold and more alone than ever?  Would you tell me to move on while my mind is still processing and assessing the damage?

This is another place where perceptions and assumptions occur on the part of others.  They assume that because there is no physical wreckage, nothing visible to the naked eye, there has not been any substantial damage.  That healing should occur immediately.

Those around us cannot see the damage; therefore, they don't perceive its reality in our lives.  Thus, they have no patience when it takes us days, weeks, months and even years to find our way out of the mess, to repair, to rebuild.  We're not rebuilding a building here; we're totally reinventing our lives.  We're becoming totally new from the inside out.  Nothing a coat of paint can do.

They feel that we should get over it quickly.

Looking at the trauma still visible in Goderich nine months after the tornado, still being repaired, how much deeper and long lasting is internal damage caused by trauma?  How much longer does it take to repair?

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This is not the blog posting I had planned for today.  It sort of came through my fingers and mind of its own volition.  I intended to lay more foundation from H. Norman Wright's book, my "bible" in the journey of recovery, about emotional trauma.

However, today I think was a necessary step in realizing that if physical trauma from a naturally occurring random event like a tornado takes so long to recover from, how much more so should we allow for the victim of emotional trauma?

Until tomorrow ... when hopefully my fingers and mind decide to follow my planned path on the road to recovery.



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