An earthquake in Virginia? Really?
I was born and raised in Southern California and have been through many quakes. I was living just a few miles west of Northridge, Calif., in 1994 when the 6.8 earthquake occurred and that was the event that forced me to say “enough is enough!”
I promptly moved to a new place where earthquakes didn’t happen.
Most people do not move out of their states because of an earthquake. What I realized later on was that my reaction to the event was largely because of the emotions rooted in my divorce that had taken place just six months prior.
Let me describe that morning of Jan. 17, 1994: When the jolt hit, my first thought was “I am going to die.”
The walls of my three-story apartment building swayed in the jolt as if they were going to collapse, but miraculously, they did not. Everything went black and there were loud metal screeching noises as the shaking grew stronger. Everything in my apartment was coming down. The TV and stereo equipment flew off the entertainment center. Plants and books were catapulted off shelves and pictures came crashing down from the walls in a pile of broken glass.
The couch was not just shaking, it was bouncing and I fell off it and onto the floor, which shook violently.
I crawled over to the front door, shielding my head as much as possible from airborne objects. Everything fell out of the cupboards in the kitchen and my refrigerator bounced completely out of its space, blocking the entry to the kitchen. The shaking only lasted about 20 to 30 seconds, but it really felt as if it had gone on for much longer than that. It seemed like it would never stop.
Strangely enough, my next thought was one of relief…relief that I had gone to Mass the day before instead of giving myself some excuse to stay home. Going to Sunday Mass was painful after my divorce, as was everything else about daily life. Especially being alone in an earthquake.
The morning progressed with many strong aftershocks, and since there was no electricity and no phone service, the apartment residents gathered around the pool sharing their stories. I had moved in just one week before and didn’t know anyone in the complex, so I tried to make some conversation but ended up calming my jitters by resting on a lounge chair in the corner.
Any therapist will tell you that going through a traumatic event as a single person is different than for those who are married. This is important to understand, not for the purpose of wallowing in self-pity, of course, but to understand more about how our God-given emotions operate and how to best deal with them.
Single people are largely forced to rely on themselves for everything from paying their bills, nursing themselves when they’re sick to yard work and in an earthquake, the sudden shock of knowing they are in it alone makes it a different and more dramatic event than for a married person.
For those who are divorced, there is the added complication of those awful emotions associated with abandonment, betrayal, and insecurity that make a traumatic event such as the sudden jolt of an earthquake much worse. People have often described this experience as literally feeling as if the rug has been pulled out from underneath their feet. The layers of emotions can color the way the event is experienced and bring even more insecurity to their life of stress and worry which has become their “new normal.”
So what can help make the situation better if you are single, widowed, or separated/divorced and experiencing these feelings of uncertainty and insecurity because of an earthquake or other unexpected event?
Remembering that all emotional healing is a process, here are some things that will help.
1. First, rest in God.
Remember that every single moment of the day – every one of them – is a gift from God to you. God takes us when it is our time to go and no one – married or single – knows when that time will come, so every moment until then should be lived with gratitude.
Regardless of your status in society, make sure you are counting the blessings of your every day life. You might even write them down during the week and bring the list with you to mass on Sunday to thank God for them.
2. Second, know what you can control and let God take care of the rest. I am a hard-core control freak, myself, and I’m always trying to be in control. I moved from SoCal to get away from earthquakes, but there are always tornadoes, floods, ice storms and previously undiscovered quake faults that accompany the terrain wherever I go. And so my mottos are, “Most sacred heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in You” and “Be not afraid!” as our Blessed John Paul II loved to remind us.
What you can control is you. Being happy, being faithful, being a loving person – these are the things you can and should control. The rest is up to God.