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My instinct is to give insight into the psychological impact, but again, this is not my story to tell. I recognise that everything I observe is through my own filters, my own spin on the world and people are too emotionally fragile for me to presume how they are really feeling. So I will leave that side for the experts and those at the centre of this event.
Instead I will use this blog to share some heartwarming stories. I would love to hear from others who have great stories to tell, feel free to leave a comment.
Today’s would perhaps be seen by some as a small story but it was one that brought my mother a great deal of joy.
Amongst the many volunteers who arrived last Friday was a woman (sorry, I don’t know her name – now I do, thank you Lyn C. of Eight Mile Plains) and her daughter. They were bussed in from another part of the city. After spending many hours wading through mud and sludge to begin to find where the garden ended and the house began, this lovely lady and her daughter walked back to catch the bus and promised to return that afternoon.
Travel was not a comfortable thing last Friday, so it was quite a mission to get the bus back home and return in her car.
Why did she return?
She came to take a couple of loads of bedding and clothes so that she could wash them for my mother. She said she would be back on Monday. I was at the house when she returned on Monday as promised – a car full of children and a big smile on her face.
Now I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am pretty haphazard when it comes to the domestic things (poor mum, I had the job of doing the rest of the washing ) but the washing that this lovely lady returned was a work of art! Everything was washed, ironed (who knew people ironed sheets!!!) and folded to perfection. In the (newly purchased for the purpose) bags were new clothes pegs, a peg bag and a beautiful hand finished coat hanger.
This story is really about the coat hanger. My mother LOVES them. She had a wardrobe full of them and I caught her looking at the line at the muddy remains of all her beloved coat hangers. One of those moments where she nearly broke down – ‘could we try to save them?’. Such a silly thing some will say, but I imagine there will be lots of stories like this. Not the big generic easily replaceable items, but the little ‘luxuries’ that have been destroyed – they will be the things missed.
The woman has other things in store for my mother when the house is ready to inhabit again and it has given her such a boost.
I imagine there are many people around who have ‘adopted’ someone – and what a beautiful thing it is to see. I don’t think there are enough words of praise to offer the volunteers.
I will just add a few (I hope) helpful suggestions if anyone reading this is currently helping someone else out in a similar crisis.
Be aware that it is very overwhelming for the people affected; often being ‘helpful’ involves asking a lot of questions and asking for a lot of decisions to be made very quickly. This isn’t as easy for some as others. It may be just too much to decide what needs to be thrown out or what colour they want the walls painted. Even if it is you offering to do the work, you are stepping into someone else’s territory, you are encroaching on their haven – be very aware that normal rules don’t apply and above all be patient and understanding.
Clothes – if the person involved is very fond of their clothes GET SOMEONE ELSE TO TAKE CARE OF IT. Looking at your favourite things in ruins is very personal and potentially overwhelming. The same if they are a collector of something.
Throwing out belongings – there is a tendency just to chuck everything out. If there is somewhere you can take the items to store and repair, please consider doing this. I saw a lot of needless waste when I was driving around the place and also noticed that there is an impulsive instinct just to throw everything away. When the dust settles, this could cause needless distress and high capital outlay to replace things. Lots of things can be washed or fixed relatively easily. Many people in this kind of crisis feel helpless and don’t know where to begin – but one day they will be ready to tackle the job. And if there is a musician involved – DO NOT THROW OUT THEIR EQUIPMENT!!!!! Some of the most beautiful music is created by dodgy looking bits of equipment.
Talking – just let them talk. Try not to get impatient, try not to redirect the conversation to what you believe is a priority. If you have to hear the same story told in 15 different ways – so be it. Everyone processes things differently. Also, now is not the time to remind people there are others worse off. They already know this, however, are often not in the right headspace to contemplate it yet. Remember, personal pain is just that – personal. It can’t be quantified and it is counter productive to judge it or try and rationalise it during a personal crisis.
Whatever you do, please ensure that you observe the body language of the people involved. If your instinct is to hug, check in to see that is ok. If you phone, check to see that it is a good time. Try to understand that the person is in a fog, probably not feeling well physically, tired and stressed – particularly if they are a bit older or not in the best of health normally.
There are many more things that I could say, but I will leave them for another time.
If you want to see the damage to the house in question, there are plenty of images here:
Stay safe everyone.
January 18th, 2011