Tuesday, July 5, 2011


I've been reading a lot of magazines lately and haven't felt up to finishing my current book, Say Her Name, yet.  It's a good book, but the author's grief is hard to handle all at once.  I've been taking breaks.  One break was June 25th. 
I work at a hospital that is part of a large system of Catholic health care providers, and one of the medical centers in our system was struck by an F5 tornado on May 22.  My mother-in-law happens to work at this medical center, and also happened to be working that Sunday evening when the tornado hit.  I'll refer readers to Dog's blog for the details of what she went through.  The destruction was massive and the last I heard 156 people died in Joplin, Missouri that day.
Stuck up here in St. Louis, we didn't know what to do for the people of Joplin.  Our family was lucky--no one was hurt and their homes were fine.  But seeing the destruction on tv was hard.  This is a town that Dog knew well.  He hadn't lived there, but had grown up in several of the towns and cities in the surrounding area. 
When my work started to organize employees to go help with the clean-up, I volunteered.  So on June 25 I boarded a chartered bus at my place of work along with about 40 of my fellow employees and took the drive to Joplin.
One word to describe what was seen--overwhelming.  There was so much gone.  Just flat out gone.  Even the trees were stripped of their leaves and bark.  I could have been told that a bomb had been dropped on Joplin and I would have believed it. 
We worked for only 1 1/2 hours on a small house near the hospital.  Our short work duration was due to us getting there late (not sure why) and then the heat being so bad that they stopped us at 3 instead of 4.  But I think we got some work done while we were there.
What we did was sort the damage out into piles.  There was the masonry pile, the metal pile, the electronics pile, and the personal belongings pile.  I regret now not taking pictures, but at the time that seemed like a very...disrespectful thing to do.  That's the only word I can think of to describe when you're literally picking up the pieces of someone's life.  I was able to guess at the sort of people that lived in this little house by what we found.  I'll list some of the things that struck me the hardest:
  • a frilly little girl's umbrella
  • the top of the stove
  • the back-drop for a small aquarium
  • Are You My Mother? (one of Puppy's favorites when he was younger)
  • a huge stuffed teddy bear
  • curtains from Target
  • a gallon of milk
  • an extra large box of off-brand snack crackers
  • a child's collection of plastic blocks with letters on them
  • a VHS tape of Fievel Goes West
  • a picture of two young women
The last item was given to an Americorps volunteer--they were in charge of any and all photos.  And those volunteers were some of the nicest people I've ever met.  They were all young folks, college aged I'd guess, and they kept thanking us over and over for helping them.  I was flabbergasted--they were the ones living down there in tents, doing some very hard work, both physically and emotionally.  It was so good to see them caring about the people of Joplin, and caring about us volunteers too.  They took good care of us, taking us right to where the work needed to be done and pressing water and Gator-Aide on us constantly. 
I want to go back sometime in September and maybe get some other people from my department to go with me.  I worried when driving down there that they wouldn't have much left for us to do.
There is more than enough.