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Dexter tornado leaves behind destroyed homes, heartache

U-M Dexter Family Medicine support group offers people affected by the storm a place to share stories of loss, survival and moving forward

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - The fierce tornado that ripped through rural Dexter last month didn’t take any lives – but some lives will never be the same, as residents watched lifelong possessions, family keepsakes and homes reduced to rubble.

And now neighbors have a safe place to share their stories with the only other people who understand – each other. University of Michigan Dexter Family Medicine has started a support group open to anyone affected by the storm, with its next meeting to be held Friday, April 13.

“Some lost their home and everything in it, including the things that represent the connections they have to their loved ones, such as pictures or mementos, the tangible evidence of those connections that we cherish,” says social worker Sue Pellerito, M.S.W., who has volunteered to facilitate the group.

“Money saved for retirement may now have to be spent on repairs. Some may feel a loss of safety and security. ‘It won't happen to me’ now becomes ‘It could happen to me again.’ Even those not directly affected by the tornado may have some stress reactions triggered by prior losses or worry about those they know who were affected.”

As the spotlight on the twister fades, many will continue to cope with the damage left behind, Pellerito says.

“During a tornado, people are in survival mode, responding to media direction or their own intuitive sense, to take cover, to stay safe,” says Pellerito, who is part of the U-M Ambulatory Social Work Group and has been the on-site social worker at Dexter Family Medicine since 2010.

“The sense of focus on survival continues as we literally pick up the pieces, help our neighbors, find our pets, look for valuables, take stock of damages, and call insurance agents. In short, take care of emergency business. Then as the dust settles, and that sense of survival urgency subsides, we begin to realize what we’ve just been through, what we’ve lost, what it means.”

The support group was started after Dexter Family Medicine’s clinic staff began observing patients who were showing symptoms of stress directly related to the tornado.

The new group offers a place for people to share personal experiences with loss and validate each other’s experiences. It is also a place to share the more positive aspects of survival, how to move forward, and how this crisis may have connected them to friends, neighbors, and the greater community.

“Local agencies have been working hard on relief efforts and we wanted to find a unique way to participate and serve the community we love so much,” says Dexter Family Medicine Medical Director and U-M lecturer Kathryn M. Harmes, M.D. “Many of our employees live in Dexter and have been affected as well as our patients. We are very fortunate to have been relatively unaffected despite being so close to the most heavily damaged neighborhood.”

This group is hosted by and located at Dexter Family Medicine, 7300 Dexter Ann Arbor Road, Dexter and is open to the public. Meetings will be held every other Friday, from 6- 7:15 p.m. on April 13, April 27 and May 11.
 

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