The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


May 17, 2012

Surprising emotions: Joplin tornado’s anniversary will be packed with feeling

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.

Or not.

“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.

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