I have been avoiding writing this story, mostly because I knew that the second I started it would make me cry and I was right. I really hate emotions, I bottle them up, swallow the lump in my throat and try my best to be numb. When it comes to my personal life, I really never allow myself to cry or show too much feelings. This comes from years and years of pain and holding things in, and yes I know it’s unhealthy.
On May 20, 2013 I caught wind that tornado’s had ripped apart several cities in Oklahoma in the early afternoon. I was sitting at this 9-5 desk job that “American Dream” job my father has pounded into my head my whole life. I went home and read that it had hit a school killing 7 children. I went to work the next morning knowing I was going to quit, I was a mess the entire day but at the near end of it I sat down with my supervisor just crying. I had to go, I couldn’t explain why I had to but I did. Less than 48 hours later I was on a plane on my way to Moore, Oklahoma.
I had responded to 2 hurricanes with this NGO but never a tornado, I imagined that a tornado would be emotionally harder than a hurricane because it ripped through homes and is more visually devastating.
On the way from the airport to Moore, the taxi driver told me how he was affected by the storm. I began preparing myself for something I had never seen. Having to get past several military and civilian police road blocks was just an indication of the intense sites I was about to see. When I arrived, the church we were set up was on a hill (I believe the highest point in the town) and all you could see around you was devastation. Houses gone, farms destroyed, cars in trees, couches on top of roofs and a very clear path that the tornado took.
Shortly after my arrival, a facebook friend posted about a family that lost their child in the storm. They lost their home, their vehicles and all but a few boxes of possessions. We connected and he got me in contact with a family friend. This family friend and I communicated for a week or so before I was connected to the actual family. I called Ross and Danni once or twice a week for 2 weeks before actually assisting them. I could tell they were overwhelmed and really didn’t want to accept help, I knew I couldn’t force them to reach out but I also knew I couldn’t let go of the hope that I could get through to them. So, I continued to try until finally 3 weeks after the storm Danni finally text me a grocery list. I went out at 9pm after my 15 hour day and shopped for spagettios and other kid favorites. I have to admit I was very nervous to delivery these items because we had not met yet and I was afraid I’d get emotional if we talked about their son. The visit went great and Danni said something that I have not let go of, “I get 80 calls a day and yours is one I actually welcome and now I have a face to add to the name, call anytime.” I was worried calling them and being a bother, I didn’t want to be a burden to them and I now knew they accepted me as a new friend and someone that wanted to help them.
We had several visits and interactions after that, we brought them plastic totes so that they could move from their temporary housing to a rental home. I brought them several teams to help them, my biggest rules was that no one ask questions and completely respect their privacy. The volunteers did everything from landscaping, odd jobs around the house, cooked dinner, and painted the kids rooms. It’s not that these jobs were very important at all, but the presence of people that care and the support is what really mattered to the family.
We had a group of men from Washington State that served as “the men in black” to the family on the one month anniversary. The media was being absolutely tasteless and nearly stalking the family. So our guys served as security at the anniversary events and even walked the slab of concrete where the school once stood. Danni walked us all over the property and showed up each classroom, the cafeteria, and even the spot where Christopher lost his life as a hero. Christopher had a friend crying down the hall and he moved to comfort. He was much bigger than most kids his age and he shielded her when the tornado hit the building. He saved her life and died as a 9 year old hero. The property had notes written on the concert in chalk and makers, favorite teddy bears and toys of the children.
I cannot lie, standing next to the spots where 7 precious children lost their lives was the absolute most gut wrenching moment of my life. I wept, I could not control it. We all stood there together and just cried. I cannot even talk about it (nor write) without being overcome with emotion again, I feel no shame with that.
From this day for the next two months, we chatted on the phone, I visited here and there a few times a week. Sometimes the family even came to visit me at the church site I was working at. I saw so much progress in the family, they were getting stronger and they could face the days more than before. I can’t say it was easier at all, I know that it didn’t get easier but they were surrounded by love and support which had to help.
I grew especially close to their daughter Haleigh, we painted and played on their swing set together. We did piggy back rides and held hands like we’ve been close forever. She really touched my heart and being able to get her a big dolls house and books she lost in the storm meant the world to me. Offering her comforting words of peace and hope was special to me also. My biggest fear is that when I go back to visit in a few months she will have already forgotten about me.
Sharing moments with Ross had to be one of my favorites. When I first met him, I was scared of him. I thought I bothered him and I later realized that It had nothing to do with me. His heart was broken and no plastic tote or grocery item was going to give him his precious boy back. Some days he didn’t talk to me at all but one day I saw something in his eyes, he smiled at me and even gave me a hug. He asked me questions about the Navy and my boyfriend at the time, he truly cared about me and I knew that. He told me his family loved me and would miss me so much. He made me promised to visit and I intend to do that as often as possible. My last night in Oklahoma I saw on their patio talk for hours about his son. He told me how he couldn’t sleep at night and why (something I will not share). We cried together, I barley talked in those hours but instead listened. We talked about grieving and how it really never gets better but it gets bearable to face a new day. I sat there thinking “How can I leave this family? I need them as much as they think they need me.” We talked about God and about the organization I was working with. We talked about what’s next for me in life and how I was hoping to get a job helping at risk youth. Sharing those few hours with Ross just talking has to be on the top 3 of moments with the Legg family. That night Haleigh and I painted on canvas and Danni even joined in. It was so special to me to share that with them.
I think about the Legg family every single day, I pray for them as if It’s a part of my daily routine. The opportunity to serve them has been a complete and total honor. I love them and miss them every single day and completely blessed to say I have been able to get to know them. It’s difficult for me to accurately explain what it feels like to walk with people through their most difficult time in their life. I wish that I had met them under different circumstances, I wish that i could have been Christopher because it’s clear he was a very very special little boy. I’d give anything to watch him and his brother in a football game because they were both so athletic and very smart. I wish I could watch Haleigh grow up to the beautiful young woman she will be. A visit isn’t good enough, but it’s going to have to do.
I didn’t know what Oklahoma was going to be for me. I didn’t know at first if quitting my job and walking away from the best hourly wage I’ve ever earned and the full benefits of a “grown up job”. But I sit here today, writing this post saying it was beyond worth it. God put all the pieces together for me upon my return to Ohio. To a job that is exactly what I want to do with my life. I worked in Disaster Relief for 2 years and I’ve experienced the most amazing things serving people at their most difficult times. It’s funny, I went into a situation expecting to help others but I was the one totally blessed in so many ways. I don’t talk to the family as often as I would like due to my work/schedule load and both of our hectic schedules but they have asked me to manager their memorial page on facebook for their son so that’s really special to me that I can continue serving even after I’ve left. To the Legg family, I truly love you and will never forgot how you have touched my life and shared your most personal moments and memories with me of a beautiful baby boy’s life ended too soon. You are my family and I will be back to see you.