Storm survivors making best of blue Christmas
by Jennifer Cohron
Dec 18, 2011 | 2034 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Keri Bagwell cherished her Christmas ornaments.

“I was very particular about them and spent a lot of time picking them out just about everywhere we went,” she said.

Most of Bagwell’s collection of ornaments was destroyed on April 27. The home in Cordova that she shared with her husband, Josh, and their 1-year-old son, Kohen, was also damaged beyond repair.

Although a new house is under construction, the young family won’t be in it in time for Santa to visit Kohen there.

The Bagwells are determined to make the best of the situation for their son’s sake, but April’s storms also stole some of December’s joy.

“I dreaded this Christmas at first and hoped it would just go by quickly,” Bagwell said.

Cathy Henderson, a crisis counselor for Project Rebound, said many other storm survivors are feeling the same way this holiday season.

They are not only preparing to spend Christmas without their old home or a loved one but also grieving the loss of handmade ornaments, family recipes and serving dishes that held as many memories as food.

“Some of these are things that they may have not thought about before the holidays came up. Now it’s really hitting them,” Henderson said.

She added that it is natural for storm survivors to again be dealing with the emotions they experienced after the tornado, which range from anger, guilt and depression to withdrawal, numbness and nightmares.

Project Rebound is an initiative of the Alabama Department of Mental Health that offers disaster survivors the emotional support they need. Meetings are held at Cordova Elementary School each Thursday at 6 p.m. and at the Sipsey Community Center on the first and third Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m.

Crisis counselors are available to lead group discussions and provide referrals to mental health professionals if further therapy is needed.

“The main thing we can do is help them look to the bright side. When we ask them to think about where they were three months ago and where they are now, they say, ‘That’s right. A lot has happened since then,’” Henderson said.

Fellow crisis counselor Gene Parker said he is amazed at how many storm survivors in Cordova are getting through the holidays by reaching out to others.

“One lady in particular whose home was destroyed is working diligently on this project to collect gifts so families can have Christmas,” Parker said.

Bagwell is focusing on how blessed her family is to have each other this Christmas and is having fun picking out new ornaments.

“It made me look forward to the day that I was putting them on our tree in our own home,” she said.

Project Rebound offers these tips to help storm survivors during the holidays:

• Talk about changes. Acknowledging that some things will be different will allow you to grieve and be open to your new “normal.”

• Decide what is important. Choose to spend energy on those things that you truly value.

• Recognize your limits. Don’t overextend your finances or emotions.

• Monitor diet, exercise and alcohol consumption.

• Start a new tradition and give back to others.