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Diane Tarantini: Lessons from the thousand-year flood

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By Diane Tarantini

DeeDee and Bobby Lewis with their dog, Maybelline, express their thanks for the help they received from friends after last year’s flooding. Last Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the flood.

Beneath the photo of her flooded home, my friend DeeDee’s Facebook status read: “One day can change everything.”

My heart sank. Over the course of more than a year, via Instagram, I watched DeeDee and Bobby Lewis build their dream home on the banks of the Elk River in Clay County, West Virginia -- the foundation, the framing, the painting, the mounting of the giant caribou head over the fireplace. It was gorgeous.

When the Elk River rose to an all-time high of over 33 feet, DeeDee and Bobby were an hour away in Charleston, at the Clay Center, attending the Four Tops and The Temptations concert. That night, nearly all their pets perished. Maybelline, their four-month-old Bassett Hound pup, was the sole survivor.

Several times that weekend, I checked DeeDee’s Facebook wall for updates. I prayed often for her and Bobby -- comfort, strength. On Sunday, my friend Ashley Griffith texted: “I can’t stop thinking about DeeDee and Bobby. Want to go down with me to help?” Yes, I answered.

On Wednesday, Ashley and I, along with her husband, Chad, and his boss, Dave, drove two trucks hauling heavy equipment down to Clay County.

Dave and Chad went to work immediately, using the Bobcat to fill what I called the “Mud Puppy” with the silky black mud that lay 8 to 12 inches thick over Bobby and DeeDee’s basement floor. Chad then steered the “Mud Puppy” to the property’s edge and tipped the muck “back from whence it came.”

For most of the morning and afternoon, DeeDee, Ashley and I sorted the extraordinary abundance of supplies generous friends sent from all over the United States. No sooner did we organize one mountain of Clorox gallons, multi-packs of paper towels and bags of Kibbles ’n Bits when another would arrive.

Ashley had brought lunch and dinner provisions, and, twice that day, we and the other volunteers dined on the soft strip of sand the flood deposited at the back of their yard, a potted flower that somehow survived, our cheery centerpiece.

The work Chad and Dave accomplished in the basement was invaluable. If not for them and the rented machines, it would have been back-breaking work for Bobby and others in the days to come. At one point, Ashley and I whispered together that it didn’t seem like we accomplished much. But actually, we did. When someone is overwhelmed with grief, crisis or a massive undertaking, sometimes the most important thing is that they not feel alone.

To stand with someone at the edge of their great darkness and tell them “You are loved” may be the best thing you can do. Hugs and encouragement, as well as your tears mingled with theirs, are every bit as important as the operation of Bobcats and “Mud Puppies.”

In addition to having the deep satisfaction of having helped friends, I learned two things that day.

Less stuff is a good thing.

I’m pretty sure DeeDee and Bobby, when they built their beautiful home, only moved in what they loved. As I looked around, I sensed that. I felt acutely aware of my need to do the same. If I don’t use or wear something at least a couple of times a year, if it doesn’t bring me joy, why keep it around? That day, I learned something else. 

Lots of friends is a great thing.

People by the hundreds have commented and offered their condolences on DeeDee’s Facebook page. Dozens of people have prayed for and/or shipped supplies to the Lewises. Every day, friends show up at their house to help. DeeDee calls them “angels.” Clearly, Bobby and DeeDee are very loved. To help them say thank you to all that helped in one way or another, we took a photo (see photo at top).

More than once I wondered about the people in the flood zone who don’t have a network of loved ones. Who will haul their countless loads of ruin to the dump? Who will hold them when they mourn their losses? Will anyone help them bleach-water-wipe the insides of their homes? I sure hope so.

Later that week, my husband and I had a blast with our home-group friends from church -- first mini-golfing, then eating ice cream. We are a community that laughs, eats, prays and does life together. Whenever any of us experiences grief or crisis, or merely disappointment, we stand together -- hugging, praying and encouraging one another. If my home flooded, I know these good people would come running with bleach, shovels, and love. It is my fervent hope that you too have a community to lean on.

Lifestyles columnist Diane Tarantini is a freelance writer and blogger who lives in Morgantown. Check out her blog, “Lessons from a Life Half Lived,” at www.dianetarantini.com. She can be reached at diane@dianetarantini.com


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