About a week ago, while on holiday, I received an email from my son reporting on the damage caused by tornados that touched down in the Ottawa area on Friday, September 21. Environment Canada reports that six tornados touched down in total although two were responsible for the bulk of the damage.
While my own home was unaffected except by power outages, many were not so lucky and recovery from these events will take months. Fortunately, there were no deaths, but there were physical injuries and the emotional impact must also be considered when contemplating the overall effects of last week’s events. At a time like this, it is worth remembering that anyone, including a child or youth, can have ongoing anxiety about three possible types of loss that can be caused by a natural disaster.
First, and most difficult to contemplate or recover from, is the anxiety related to loss of life or serious injury. As I mentioned, there were no deaths in the Ottawa tornadoes but there were injuries and, certainly, many people were afraid for their lives. In dealing with any loss related to personal safety, I have always found the resources of the National Child Stress Network to be especially helpful. I urge parents to use it when their family, including children and youth are facing issues related to traumatic grief.
I should note that, while I have looked, I have not so far found any reports about whether anyone had a pet die during the tornado or how the animals in the region were affected. The death of a family pet or the wild animals in one’s neighbourhood that one becomes familiar with can be as difficult for a person to cope with as the death of a family member.
The second type of loss in a natural disaster is the loss of one’s belongings or home. For many people, home is a sanctuary or haven and certain items, like a beloved toy, or favourite family pictures, can be particularly difficult to manage. We all choose our belongings for the pleasure they give us and the comfort they can bring in times of anxiety and loss. When we lose these, we fear losing the good feelings an item brought us. There is no doubt that a natural disaster in which we lose precious things is an opportunity to move us away from our love of the material but the younger the child, the more difficult it is for them not to be concrete about the loss of a favourite toy. We can all understand this, for do we not all have one or even several items of great meaning? Such things often represent an important person or memory. When such a thing is lost, it is a good time to quickly find another way to represent the person or memory. These days, my favourite way to do this is to find an image or write a poem or story related to the item and save it to the Cloud. We are told that anything can be saved in the Cloud forever. That can be very reassuring. (Having expressed my great faith in the Cloud, I am just waiting for someone to pull me back down to earth about this. For the moment, however, the Cloud is my go-to-place for storing memories and I recommend it to everyone trying to cope with the loss of a beloved object.)
Finally, after a natural disaster happens close to a usually peaceful home or neighbourhood, everyone in the neighbourhood must learn to manage the loss of a feeling of security. Some of the Ottawa neighbourhoods that were affected by the tornado had been affected by flooding of the Ottawa River in the spring of 2017, but others had not experienced such an event since the 1997 ice storm. After the ice storm, many people in my neighbourhood developed better back-up plans for when their homes lost power. This is the kind of thing that people do to manage the stress related to the loss of a feeling of security. However, the victim of a natural disaster may have no choice except to begin to cultivate a frame of mind to live more in the moment, remembering that natural disasters are not predictable or controllable. This is not a solution for persons living in unsafe places such as war zones, although it is necessary for those who live where such events as floods or hurricanes are not rare.
There is one thing, however, that the rest of us can do to help those suffering the loss of a feeling of personal security. We can help by providing support, by developing our own communities to assist our neighbours in times of need. We can donate to relief funds, we can volunteer our time and our own resources to ensure that our neighbours know that, in the event of a disaster, the community will be there to assist them. This sense of a supportive community is one of the measures that can help victims recover their peace of mind. Building a community in this way can provide each of us with peace of mind that, in the event of an unforeseen disaster, there will be help. Showing a young person that others are helping and that they can also help is a very effective way to enable them recover their peace of mind.
(Note: This photo was taken by T. Beck)