I Write to Heal (or, That Time a Tornado Hit Our Neighbourhood)

Preamble: I write to clarify, I write to process, I write to capture it all. Sometimes I write to heal. This post was written two weeks after a tornado hit our neighbourhood last September. It describes the event itself in pretty vivid detail. I never published it here, I guess it was still too raw. I published a different post instead, about a month and half later. Today I feel compelled to share the details. I guess healing happens in stages.

Voici, a description of that time a tornado hit our neighbourhood…


Two weeks ago our neighbourhood was hit by a tornado.

Seriously, a frickin’ tornado.

Those who know me well know that I am NOT a fan of thunderstorms, a tornado was one of my biggest fears. Well then… Check. MARK!

I don’t even know how to write about this.


We are safe. We lost seven trees in the front yard and none of them hit our house. I assume D. has a horseshoe hidden somewhere up his @ss and isn’t telling me.

Meanwhile today, two weeks after the event, I watched moving trucks roll in to pick up the belongings of my neighbours whose houses were deemed uninhabitable.

They did not fare so well.

The neighbourhood is a recovering disaster zone - literally.


The night it happened was chaotic and surreal.

We had a tornado warning that afternoon, but nothing much was happening. D. and I hung out in the lower level of the house nonetheless, just in case. After a heavy downpour the warning was downgraded to a watch. “Great!”, we thought.

Immediately after that we heard a sound.

“It sounds like someone’s garbage can is rolling on the street in the wind”, D. said.

It kept rolling. And it kept getting louder. And I remembered the words I’d read in the tornado warning earlier that day urging people to take cover if they heard a growing roaring sound.

“That ain’t no garbage can”, I said, “Basement! Now!”

Apparently elocution goes out the window in time of crisis.

I ran down, D. stayed upstairs just long enough to see the wind start whipping around and the BBQ start to lift. Then he ran down too.

The power was already out due to some high winds so the basement was dark, illuminated only through a few small windows. We stared at each other wide-eyed for about 30 seconds during a loud “WHOOSH” and it was done. Silence.

We didn’t really have time to be scared. We didn’t really know what to think.

We walked upstairs, somewhat stunned.

The first thing I noticed were the windows, murky with leaves and mud.

“Our crabapple tree is at the door”, D. said.

“OMG our blue spruce is completely uprooted and on its side!”, I yelled.

“B. & H.’s tree is down across the street too!”

That’s when we realized that something big had happened.

We walked out the front door and around the apple tree. B. & H. walked out their front door, just as stunned as we were.

“You OK?” we all yelled.


Then we walked out onto the street and saw the destruction. Trees piled on the road, roofs ripped open and one hundred year old white pines snapped like matchsticks - our green neighbourhood canopy gone.

In 30. flippin’. seconds.

It started raining again. We walked around anyway, stunned, trying to make sure that everyone was safe and sound. It felt like everything was in slo mo. I wore my $14 black rubber boots from Walmart with the red jeans I’d worn to work that day.

A woman tugged on a large pine branch that was down on the road, trying to pull it to the side. I started to help.

“I’m S.”, she said, “I live around the corner.”

“I’m Stephanie. That branch might be too heavy for us.”

“We’re full of adrenalin”, she said, “we can do it.” And we dragged it onto our lawn. It put pine sap on my red jeans.

I painted this a few months after the tornado. I’m not sure if it’s finished or not, it doesn’t really matter. Painting heals too.

I painted this a few months after the tornado. I’m not sure if it’s finished or not, it doesn’t really matter. Painting heals too.

I wandered around the corner with my neighbour. The destruction was just as bad if not worse.

People stood in the middle of the street and stared at their homes, many of them partially crushed by 150-foot tall pine trees.

One guy looked at me and said “What does one DO after a tornado?“

“My neighbour just called 911”, was all I could muster. I knew the question was rhetorical.

“I have hockey tonight”, said another guy.

Nervous chuckles.

I walked back home.


Emergency response teams arrived shortly after. So did more residents.

The storm hit at 6PM so some people were on their way home from work. We watched neighbours walk up the street, stepping over branches and tree trunks, fear and panic on their faces as they got closer to our court.

It was awful.

One man, briefcase in hand, looked terrified as he rounded the corner. His children who were home with his wife when it happened ran to him, sobbing.

I saw another couple we knew coming up the street. I knew their house was badly damaged, but they didn’t yet. It was gut-wrenching to watch them turn the corner knowing what waited for them.

Police officers, firefighters and paramedics ran through the streets. All the roads were blocked, no vehicles could make it through.

“We’re not telling you to leave, but use common sense”, someone told us.

A gas leak was discovered at the end of our street. “You must evacuate”, we heard.

It was chaotic.

After contacting our families to let them know we were OK (my parents watch the weather network!), we contacted our friend M. who offered to pick us up at the closest meeting point and house us for the night.

We ran into our house with head lamps in hand and threw stuff in some overnight bags. The house was dark by then, there was still no power.

“Only what I need for the night…”, I told myself. Toothbrush, PJs, comfy pants, comb, deodorant, book, find-a-word book and pen. Find-a-words soothe me.

My hands shook as I stuffed each item in my orange day pack, adrenalin still pumping.

We set out into the night with our bags and our head lamps, trying not to trip over anything.

Others did the same.

One family walked beside us, rolling their suitcases over and around branches, dodging the tree trunks. The mother and I chatted, I don’t even remember what about. She was crying and obviously shaken. She was holding her little girl and I cheerily asked the girl what her name was. I don’t remember that either. I DO remember another man - most likely a stranger - speaking to the toddler in a cheery voice, telling her that she was heading on an adventure, a camping trip!

The mother put on a cheerful face too. All of us trying to make things seem as normal as possible for the sake of the little one.


We found our friend in the parking lot of a nearby strip mall. We noticed that the local grocery store, the mall’s anchor store, was open and operating on generators. It was probably around 9PM and we hadn’t had dinner yet so we popped in to buy chips, croissants, and for some reason I picked up a loaf of my favourite sprouted grain bread. I guess I sought comfort.

The store lights were low, fridges were draped in large plastic sheets and pop music played over the speakers above. A guy came in for some ice, probably hoping to save food from going bad.

Traffic and street lights were out, the drive to M.’s home was dark. It went quickly, M. navigated the unlit streets like a pro. We were welcomed at the door by his wife R. and oodles of warm candlelight. Finally we could unwind a bit - or at least try. I was grateful. I still am.


Next up: In The Morning Light.


Judging from that last sentence I planned to write a sequel detailing my experience the next morning, when we came back home and saw the devastation in daylight for the first time. I never wrote the piece. Maybe the words will come later or maybe the time and the need to explore that experience through writing has passed. Who knows.

I write to clarify, I write to process, I write to capture it all.

Sometimes I write to heal.

After The Storm (or, Navigating My First Tornado)

On September 21st a tornado hit our neighbourhood. It was a Friday, around 6PM.

It sucked.

For weeks I've been wanting to write about it here, but didn't know where to start. This morning I decided to just write, capturing miscellaneous thoughts and insights as I continue to navigate the storm's aftermath nearly eight weeks after it came through.

Writing usually helps.


Let me start by saying that we do not get tornadoes often up here. Snow storms? Yes. Floods? In the spring, yes. Devastating ice storms? Oh yeah. But tornadoes? Very rarely.

On September 21st the storm system that produced the tornado that hit our neighbourhood produced five others that touched down in the region. Houses were flattened, trees uprooted and because one of them hit a major electrical transmission station, thousands of people were without power for days. Thankfully, no lives were lost.

To the left is where the tornado touched down, in “our” woods. To the right the trees remain.

To the left is where the tornado touched down, in “our” woods. To the right the trees remain.


I live in a neighbourhood that was known for its 100-year old white pines. When the developer built our suburb in the 1970s he kept the trees and built the houses under a canopy of green. It made our little corner of the city special.

Today there is no more canopy. Within seconds the storm snapped our beloved pine trees like matchsticks and uprooted many of the other trees around them. D. and I lost seven trees in our front yard. Our neighbour counted 24 stumps in her back yard alone. These trees soothed, sheltered and protected us. I feel vulnerable without them.

The trees caused the majority of the damage as they came crashing down. I also suspect that if it weren't for them the neighbourhood would have suffered even more damage than it did. I'm no meteorologist nor am I an engineer, but I like to think that they buffered us from the wind, sheltering and protecting us to the very end.

Our front yard after the storm. None of those trees are there anymore. None of them touched the house.

Our front yard after the storm. None of those trees are there anymore. None of them touched the house.


Seeing trees felled breaks my heart. So does seeing their roots being torn out of the ground. It's like a sucker-punch to the gut. Every time.


Survivor's guilt is real. We were lucky, we only lost trees. There was no damage to the house. It hurts to see our neighbours hurt, to witness their losses and feel completely helpless. It wasn't our fault. It wasn't anybody's fault.


Though I knew it intellectually, it took a few validating conversations with professionals to convince me that even if our losses weren't as significant as others' we were still impacted by the tornado. Often when I mention that there was no damage to our house folks sigh a sigh of relief, say “Oh well at least you just lost trees, you must be grateful!” and then change the subject, giving me the sense that there is nothing more to say. I know they mean well and yes, I am VERY grateful. I know how lucky we are.

And I am sad. And angry. And tired.

I was told by medical and mental health professionals that these are normal, post-traumatic reactions. I cried as they gave me permission to feel what I was feeling.

I share this here should anyone need to hear it too.


There have been a lot of tears shed. Tears for the loss of majestic white pines that lined our streets. Tears for the seven trees we personally lost: four spruces, two birches and my beloved blossoming crab-apple tree. Tears for the loss of our neighbourhood woods and trails, where the twister first touched down.

Tears for lost roofs, windows and fences, for neighbours having to leave their homes. Tears at the sound of another f*cking chainsaw or at the sight of another logging truck loaded with tree trunks leaving the neighbourhood. Tears of relief. Tears of gratitude and surrender as I allowed myself to receive help, whether in the form of brown bag lunches distributed by strangers the day after the storm, a warm meal prepared by friends or financial aid from the Red Cross to help with cleanup expenses.

On some days the tears still come, but they come much less often than they did.



In the weeks after the storm, self-care came in the form of simple pleasures.

In the weeks after the storm, self-care came in the form of simple pleasures.


I met more neighbours in the five days after the storm than I did in the five years I've lived here. For the first time I felt comfortable knocking on someone's door for help and felt comfortable offering help in return. If there's ever a silver lining this is one of them. A bright, shiny silver lining.

I hope this feeling stays.


I tried to approach the storm's aftermath with curiosity, observing my physical and mental reactions. This being my first tornado (!) I really didn't know how things would unfold. It was also interesting to navigate the event with D. We moved through it together, supporting each other yet discovering – and respecting – that we have different ways of coping.

The discovery process is ongoing.


“Remember to play after every storm.” - Mattie Stepanek


My neighbourhood woods was one of my sanctuaries. Losing it forced me to reflect on other places, practices or activities I can tap into that have the same grounding and calming effect. Enter: birdwatching.

Last Saturday I gifted myself a new bird feeder for the back yard, one of few remaining pockets of normalcy in my surroundings.

Best. Purchase. Ever.

A pair of cardinals and a friend. ♥

A pair of cardinals and a friend. ♥


Nearly eight weeks after the storm many neighbours still live in houses with tarps on their roofs or plywood in place of windows. Others are gone, their houses deemed uninhabitable until repaired or worse, slated to be demolished. Last Monday after hearing a chainsaw in the distance D. and I felt the ground shake. I can only guess that a remaining tree was felled, perhaps it was compromised or simply couldn't be saved.

I cannot get away from the aftermath unless I physically leave the area. Every day I am faced with visual reminders, which can make it hard to carry on.

But there is hope. The neighbourhood is rebuilding.

Repairs are being made to my neighbour's roof as I type. The city is offering free trees for city-owned road allowances in our front yards, some of them are already in the ground. Early Holiday decorations are popping up, adding sparkle to our streets.

One step and one day at a time, I navigate the tornado's aftermath individually and alongside my community. I grieve as I must and delight where I can – because there is still much delight to be had when one is open to it.

“Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn't people feel as free to delight in whatever remains to them?” - Rose F. Kennedy

I move through and forward as gracefully as I can with gratitude, Love, care for my neighbours, care for my Self and a whole lot of patience.

Because that’s what I can do, after the storm.