“The morning after the tornadoes, when daylight was upon us, and I got a good look at the back of the house all blown out. What the tornado did not carry away was thrown everywhere, but there wasn’t a piece of clothing, a toothbrush, a hairbrush, or a pair of shoes to use. What it didn’t suck out was inches of insulation, which was everywhere and very itchy.
“I called a friend from work at St. Vincent de Paul and told her my house was pretty much gone. When my friends from St. Vincent arrived they had food and water, boxes to pack things, and a piece of blueberry lemon pie someone in the office had made. It was the first ‘food food’ that I had in my mouth. It was gone in two seconds. I devoured it. I had really bad manners! It’s funny, the last thing you are thinking about is food even though it is something you need.
“What I needed most was somebody loving and caring enough to come check on us. When my SVdP friends showed up, it was such a blessing. One of them just sat with me and held my hand. We prayed together. They helped me think more rationally than I was. They saw that my number one worry was my animals. I knew I could survive with Gods’ grace, but I am all my pets have. Once we got my animals were carriers and cages, I knew I could take them anywhere. Once that was settled, one of my friends said, “Jill, you cannot stay in this house.’
“So, we started going through what was left to pack. It seemed like that tornado took every single thing. But wouldn’t you know there were two pictures still on the back wall hanging from a tiny nail? One of my dad, and one of my grandson squeezing my face, and me laughing. I was so grateful and thankful. It felt like hitting the lottery.
“We ended up staying in the house for a few more days, then we got into a hotel. Those were days without toothbrush, hairbrush, or clothes. Just finally taking a shower helped our thinking and our souls. The same day we moved into the hotel I went back to my job at SVdP. I was given shoes and clothing from the clothing closet there, and other items from friends, so we were set as far as things that were needed.
“Once we got more settled, I thought ‘What can we do to help someone else?’ My saving grace was helping others. That was how I stared crawling my way out of this. So many people helped. When a church blessed us with a check, well, you gotta pay that back, so that’s what we did. God saw fit to do with me – in spite of me – no matter what. I’m in recovery and when you tackle hurdles like that, you want to give back because there are people who are stuck like you were, and you just want to help them. How do you not help when you see people who lost everything? We just bought what we needed when we came up out of our basement, like coolers and supplies, then we went and started handing them out. We even included a pen and paper because insurance has you write down all the things you lost.
“And people were so kind to us. I got help from people through SVdP, and a group of good people gave me a check after they saw me and my house on the news. At that point we were broke broke. And then there came that check. I was so grateful. It is hard to accept things because so many people needed so much more, but that right there kept us afloat. We could buy gas and eat. We were in hotels for four weeks, then we moved into a rental house.
Now a year later, how is the tornado still affecting your life?
“I realized I can lose everything and bounce back. It showed me what a fighter and survivor I really am: it was not easy, but we got back in our home in November. There are definitely some scars. When it is getting ready to storm, I make sure all my animals are tucked in. I do a lot of praying. I see where my kids are in advance.
“But, oh my gosh, all kinds of good things came out of it. The faith I have in the Lord is number one. Because when all my prayers were answered—my family was all okay—it was evident. I have gotten a lot of good friends out of this experience. I am closer to my neighbors. I’m more appreciative of our police. I am grateful for my job and work harder at it. I’m even a better pet owner!
“I have an appreciation for humanity and how many people respond when they are called. Through these tornadoes, I learned all about the kindness of people.