A guest post from a dear friend, Dr. Carrick Carter, about hope and love during tragedy. A week after the tornado that struck only a few miles from her home and practice, Dr. Carter speaks out about her experience and offers words of encouragement to parents helping their children understand the circumstances of disaster and grief. Carrick is a Clinical Child Psychologist in Norman, Oklahoma.
On Monday afternoon, I crouched in the order of my living room in Norman, OK watching the image of a two-mile debris cloud barreling in my direction. Even on the television screen, it was unbelievable. The sirens blared outside, and I held a phone close to my ear so that I could hear my sister who was in Oklahoma City. “Claire, I’ve never seen anything like this before…” We grew up in Oklahoma, but even this was unimaginable.
“Moore folks! This is headed into Moore” said the meteorologist. “If you are in Moore, abandon where you are if you cannot get below ground… You’ve got to act now to save your life and save you loved one’s lives.” Then the TV screen went blank. The power had flickered and the cable would not come back on. Moore is the town just in between where my sister and I were, and while it seemed like we were safe for the time being, a sick feeling came over me because I knew that many were not safe. I prayed and waited.
After the storm, I sat quietly listening to the radio for hours with my brother as the damage was described and warnings of other possible storms were discussed. It was surreal. I checked on friends. Friends checked on me. We looked for routes around the damaged area to get my sister home from work. The hours passed. Then the cable came back on, and we sat in awe of the power of this storm. Then two friends affected by the storm finally made it to our house, tired and hungry. They ate and showered. We heard about their experiences and went to bed, but no one slept much that night.
The next morning I read text messages as I lied in bed. They were words of concern and prayers for my day ahead. This day was not going to be easy for anyone in the area, and I was not sure what my day would bring. I am a Child Psychologist, and I had to get ready to see my patients. In a daze, I got ready and made it to my office about ten minutes away from where the storm hit. I made copies of handouts on recovering from a tornado that had been sent to me by a friend. I was not scheduled to see anyone directly affected by the storm, but I knew that there would not be a person in my office that was not affected by it in some way.
In between patients, I was glued to my computer to get news of the aftermath. In the midst of the devastation, I found an outpouring of love from around the world… prayers, volunteers, donations. The outpouring of love was so beautiful that I often found myself in tears. Here are some wonderful examples…
The other thing I found was a unique vulnerability. Even the angstiest of my adolescent patients seemed vulnerable. Many sessions started with talking about their feelings of sadness, anxiety, and anger about the storm as well as their questions about why this would happen. I found myself saying, “Monday was very scary, and many people are going to be sad about this for a long time… What else have you noticed since the storm?” Without fail, I began hearing more stories of love, and I realized that in addition to helping these children cope with the overwhelming emotions associated with the situation, I was being given a unique opportunity.
I do not have the answers about why this happened or how an all-powerful God fits into the equation. Yes, I have thoughts, but they seem to be more fraught with questions than answers. What I feel certain of is that the love shown during this time is pouring from the heart of God. In my office, it is not my place to promote my religious beliefs. However, I know that if my patients focus on thoughts about storms and loss, their feelings of anxiety and sadness will increase. If I can use these moments when the storm has left them vulnerable to refocus their thoughts on the abundance of love around us, their feelings of hope, love, and generosity will likely increase. I saw this happen in my office. Overwhelming fear gave way to plans of giving, and sadness gave way to compassion that would have never occurred without the abundant love and unique vulnerability.
This experience left me thinking and praying about the opportunities we have to work in the lives of children after a storm. While I know that tornadoes like this are exceptionally rare, even in Oklahoma, we are all faced with storms, whether they be illness or divorce or disaster. After these storms, sometimes our lives are unrecognizable, and recovery from storms is complex… Basic needs will need to be met. Wounds will need to heal. Trauma will need to be treated. Feelings of fear, sadness, and anger will need to be acknowledged.
However, in the middle of all of this, it is important to acknowledge the love that God has sent to us. Better yet, be a part of it. I encourage parents to lead their children in pouring out love to those facing storms. Parents, have them help you to prepare a meal for a family who has lost of loved one or make a play-date with a child whose parents have just divorced. They could volunteer at a food shelter or visit an older person who has just moved to an assisted living center. Also, teach your children to pray for those facing storms so that they can recognize God using them to show love to others. These experiences not only open your child’s heart to God’s love for others, they will also prepare them to recognize God’s love when they face a storm. We cannot always prevent or take away a child’s pain, and we cannot answer all of their questions about how God lets bad things happen. However, we can help them to recognize His love, and I can think of no better way to help them to cope with the storms of life.