The events of June 7, 2008 turned the lives of my husband, my small son, and me upside down. Many times, though, I have looked back and wondered, “How in the WORLD did we get through that mess and how in the world did we end up…..here?!?”
You see, June 7, 2008 was a day that I will never forget. Heavy rains…uncertainty…silly drivers trying to drive through barricades…loud neighbors…rising waters….and the urgency in my husband’s voice that we must leave “NOW.” Standing at the end of our street and staring at our house that looked as if it had been placed in the middle of a dirty body of water was a difficult thing to swallow and waiting for the water to recede, felt like an eternity. Trying to process through those emotions was extremely difficult at first. Things had to be handled. The house must be stripped of anything that could be saved and so many duties needed to be fulfilled immediately. There was no time for emotion; only time for action. This is where the beautiful chaos began.
People. They piled in. They wanted to help and their help was unbelievably perfect. Bill and Diane Toombs and family provided housing for us. Our dear friends from Indianapolis Christian Fellowship showed up with crews of people to help recover pictures and clothes and to move furniture quickly out of the house lest the fuel oil smell that emitted from the home would have condemned more items to the curb. Local churches provided water and lunch. Friends rallied together, sharing our story with their families and friends and raising money for us and pulling together to buy items for us that we desperately needed, like shoes. Packing and lifting and cleaning and scrubbing and peeling and washing and tossing and slipping and sliding….people offered the kind of support we needed at just the right time. We were given cash, gift cards, food, and toys for our precious son who lost his entire toy room to the dirty waters.
I remember the anxiety that came when it took FEMA a while to show up and make themselves available to the public. We were on pins and needles. Phone calls had to be made and hard discussions had to take place and quite frankly, we had no answers. Would our house be ‘condemned’ or would we be moving back in? What did insurance really cover? Who is IDEM and why do they want to talk to me? Where would my family live? Why is it raining AGAIN!? Why do I feel numb? Why is the man from the mortgage company telling me that he can do nothing until we are LATE on our mortgage payment?
Finally, when FEMA arrived, homeowners huddled into a building on Franklin College’s campus and sat in chairs that lined a narrow hallway. People ‘worked’ the crowd to make sure we were ‘okay.’ People handed out snacks and water and paperwork to help save time, and met each person with a firm reassuring handshake. Somehow, these people never forgot a name. No matter how many times I entered that building, I was always greeted by name and directed to where I needed to go. As we sat in the hallway with stained hands and sweat on our brows and anxiety welling up inside of us, it was difficult to know which emotion to let loose for fear that maybe…quite possibly…we might not ever recover. But surprisingly, community and camaraderie began. We actually began sharing our stories and intently listening as our neighbors told theirs. We even smiled from time to time despite the tension that was often overwhelming. In the midst of this, I met some of the coolest people I have ever known. People willing to do anything to ease the anxiety of the moment, offer answers to hard questions, and other people just like me who were exhausted and numb but wanted to find common ground and actually feel emotion again. I met Stephanie, a sweet girl who sat next to me in the hallway and who still brings a smile to my face and Mark and Sarah and our heartfelt conversations about flood recovery often added lightheartedness to the day. I met a FEMA worker who helped me navigate through paperwork, called our insurance company on behalf of my family, and offered a smile whenever I entered her area. I met a man from the Salvation Army who handed a gift card for me to go and purchase blankets and pillows and clothing and food for my family. I met a woman who understood my hesitation in getting food stamps to cover the cost of food for the month. And over the course of the next few months, I met fire fighters and employees from IDEM who were sympathetic and understanding about the fuel oil spill and police officers who had to file a report over the continued vandalism of our property. I met a therapist from Adult and Child Mental Health who wanted to help my son with his weather anxieties. We met two amazing people who rented our home to us despite our circumstances (Thank you, Randy and Debbie!). I met local contractors who wanted to help provide bids (Mike Waugh and Dennis Henderson) to help speed up the process and I met an amazing woman named Joanna Myers (Senior Planner with the City of Franklin) who actively worked with me, encouraged me and reassured me that she would do anything she could to help us through this process and who understood my anxiety and pain when our home was vandalized over and over again. I met the former Mayor, Fred Paris, who was adamant that our circumstances would not be overlooked and who checked in regularly. I also experienced great grace and instruction from a dear friend, Roy Dickinson, who fought for my family, encouraged us to keep pushing forward, and who offered great insight and care.
Throughout the last 4 years, my family has struggled, cried, and recognized the extent of our loss, but we have rejoiced over the outpouring of love that has been shown and the hidden blessings that have often overwhelmed us on each leg of this journey. I rejoice that in our weakness, God’s strength is made perfect and that He provided people to hold our hands high when we had no strength to do it on our own.
In February of this year, our mortgage company finally agreed to allow us to sell our home to the City of Franklin and we were able to finally close this chapter of our lives. About a month later, the demolition of the home took place and it was such a bittersweet day. I had been waiting and waiting and waiting for the day that the ‘flooded house’ issue would resolve and the house would be torn down but watching your home being knocked down really isn’t as easy to witness as one might think. Memories flooded my mind and tears fell as I saw our son’s toy room being smashed into the basement and his blue striped bedroom walls falling to their demise. I saw the bedroom that belonged to my dear husband and I and a hidden chimney I never knew was there. I walked away that day still feeling unsettled. It wasn’t until several weeks later that I heard a quote that read, “You are free when your yesterday doesn’t affect your tomorrow.” It was at that moment that I realized that yes, we are indeed FREE from the flood of 2008. This will no longer affect our tomorrow. But then I was recently asked if my family had fully recovered from the flood. Recovered? No. Never. How do you fully recover from the outpour of love and support that ushers in to sweep you off of your feet during a time of desperate need? You simply cannot. My family is free from the burdens of the flood but we will never be fully recovered. You all have changed our lives and enriched it greatly with your great love, support, action, and encouragement and for this I am truly grateful. There are truly no words left to express the deep gratitude that is overwhelming me at this moment. May all of you who have helped us or our neighbors during our recovery know that your actions, words, hugs, prayers, cards, and encouragement did not go unnoticed and that you are a part of this journey with us. Today, you are released to be free from this burden with us but I pray that you, too, will never fully be recovered.
With a grateful heart,