JOPLIN, Mo. —
The tornadoes that struck Alabama on April 27, 2011, have helped prepare Joplin for how to handle its tornado, from response to recovery.
Thanks to Tuscaloosa, it’s safe to say that the May 22 anniversary will be very emotional.
“I think it had a larger impact than people imagined,” said Clay Leak, a Tuscaloosa resident who attended anniversary services on April 27. “It’s shocking how much it affected people the day of and the night before.”
Starting this weekend, a series of anniversary reminders will be held. From a photo exhibit at Spiva Center of the Arts to a citywide walk along the tornado path, many events will be held where people can remember and heal.
“Some people may want to withdraw to Disney World during the anniversary, take their family and get out of town,” said Del Camp, vice president of clinical operations at Ozark Center. “For them, that’s the right thing to do. They have already made the choice to move past and look forward, and made a point not to recall.”
Everyone handles grief differently, Camp said. Anniversaries are part of the process for recovering from a tragedy. And no matter the level of loss someone suffered, the anniversary will still surprise people with its emotional power, he said.
“There’s going to be visual clues that haven’t been available for a while,” Camp said. “The coverage on video or the printed word can be powerful and unexpected.”
The phenomenon is similar to someone driving down a road and not remembering how they got home, Camp said. It’s basically a dissociation and realization of new realities that replace the initial shock.
“Although there are reminders that the tornado occurred, it has softened, and our brains are desensitized to it,” Camp said. “But in the retelling of some of those stories, some people can be retraumatized and reminded of how helpless they felt, how overwhelmed they were.”
Anniversaries are important for pegging experiences, Camp said, but people should do what’s best for themselves as the date approaches.
- Focus on your support system. Surround yourself with those you love and who also love you. It’s good to be around people who care about you, Camp said.
- Prepare for strong emotions. The anniversary will stir up memories that haven’t surfaced, or have been dormant.
Remember the basics: If someone isn’t sleeping or eating right, they may still be suffering from stress-related symptoms from the tornado. A person’s general medical health can be disregarded, as well.
“It’s like we’re at the bottom levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” Camp said. “We haven’t been paying attention to taking care of our bodies or minds.”
Anniversaries of tragedies usually lead to an uptick in the number of people seeking services from the center, which is the behavioral health division of Freeman Health System. People go for a variety of reasons, including not being able to focus on work or parenting, experiencing nightmares, not getting over a fear of storms or not sleeping. Camp said such a milestone causes people to take stock of themselves.
“While we’ve been able to get on with life, we’re hitting a milestone and taking a knee,” Camp said. “We sift through our emotions and find we’re not doing as well as we thought, then we realize life doesn’t have to be like that.”
Still need help?
Del Camp, vice president of clinical operations at Ozark Center, said the center has mental health resources for those without health insurance. The center’s crisis line is 417-347-7720. The admissions office is 417-347-7600.