When Tragedy Strikes

LITTLE ROCK, AR – MARCH 31: A rainbow shines amidst the remains of a neighborhood damaged by a tornado on March 31, 2023 in Little Rock, Arkansas. Tornados damaged hundreds of homes and buildings Friday afternoon across Central Arkansas. (Photo by Benjamin Krain/Getty Images)

The last few days have been challenging. My community was hit by an EF-3 tornado on Friday, March 31. It happened toward the end of the workday, so I was heavily involved in helping get alerts out, making sure students and faculty knew about support resources, and trying to ensure my staff were safe.

As a former news person, I immediately go into what the family calls “task mode.” It’s a strange sense of calm to be able to quickly process information, make a call, write a message, and do what needs to be done in a crisis. It’s a great skill to have in the moment. However, as an adult, I recognize it doesn’t give me time or space to process the natural feelings associated with tragedy.

This weekend has been a continual iteration of scary and sad news for my community. Missing pets. Grocery stores out of food. Events cancelled. Events added to help. All of it makes it easy to stay in the “task mode.”

Getting Out of That Mode

Over the years, I’ve learned to recognize that longterm “task mode” isn’t healthy personally, but it’s also not healthy for my team. They need to see the struggles I’m facing and know that it is okay to feel feelings and need space and time to work through challenges. We are both better when everything isn’t just fine.

How I’m Working Through It

Check ins — I checked in on every member of my team multiple times this weekend. I wanted them to know that I was here. That I cared. And that it was okay for them to ask for help. I also sent a message to my team leaders letting them know I could easily do grocery shopping for them if needed.

Answered honestly — When people asked how I was doing I tried to share honestly. Physically, I am fine. Our home, possessions, regular routine were not impacted. I live in a different town, so I went home to an in-tact house, with power and a fully stocked fridge. My commute took me around the damage, so I didn’t have the 4-hour commute some my team did.

I tried to share with people that I was emotionally struggling because I was worried, scared, upset, unsure how to help, etc. I think that being honest about my struggle helps others to know it’s okay to struggle and talk about it.

Finding ways to help — My husband and I have chatted about how we’ll help and what we can do to support. I know we’ll donate to an area group to help with cleanup, restoration, etc. However, I wanted to do more. I spent a good part of yesterday working on several campus messages. Making sure our students and employees knew the university cared for them and had resources to help gave me a sense of purpose to feel like I was doing something that could help.

Giving grace — As a result of the sheer shock, I have struggled with motivation. I just want to sit and process. I don’t feel motivated to do all the other things that need to be done. They just feel meaningless. I wasn’t in the mood for laundry, cleaning, groceries, etc. Instead, I just wanted to reflect.

I gave myself time to do that. I realized that was helping me process the situation. I will encourage my team to spend some time together this week doing the same. After all, we all spent time in the bathroom/lobby area as parts of our community were destroyed. We have a shared lived experience, and I think it’s important we take some time to process together.

Now What

I know this post was a little different than what I usually write, but I thought it was important for me to share my thoughts and where I am. However, I also wanted other leaders who face similar things to know how I’m approaching it. Maybe it helps them to figure out what to do and how to help. Thanks for listening, and please support our community if you can.

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