It’s Not the Building, It’s the People: Grief after the Tornado

Photo credit: Christine Wondolowski

My aunt died unexpectedly my senior year of high school. The next morning, I went to school and walked around numb and in disbelief that everyone else could continue life as normal. Never mind that she lived across the country and most of my friends had never met her, but to me, it was complete madness to see everyone carrying on as usual.  

On a smaller scale, I felt similarly last month after the Dallas Tornado. I found myself not wanting to leave the house and avoiding people. I’m an introvert by nature so this isn’t a foreign feeling to me, but it took until the end of the weekend for me to realize why. I was grieving.   

Late last month, a tornado ripped through the neighborhood and area where I grew up. The effects are devastating. The towering, leafy trees I grew up under became objects of destruction as the wind tore up roots and catapulted trunks and branches across lawns. Bits of shingles litter shrubs and roads, and tarps stretch across roofs to keep the rain from seeping in to do more damage. The intersection of Royal and Preston, where I spent way too much money and time at Starbucks as a high schooler, is almost unrecognizable. Windows are blown out, signs destroyed, and debris piled up. 

Right after the tornado slashed through my parents’ street, their neighbors streamed outside in shock at how fast everything happened. They checked on each other and started to understand the magnitude of the damage with flickering flashlight beams in the pitch black. A few hours later, the firemen came door to door knocking and doing the same. Now, the once quiet neighborhood has a steady of hum chainsaws as clean up continues. My parents are bewildered that their house and property sustained minimal damage compared to everyone else in the neighborhood.

I haven’t been able to see the full extent in some places because many roads are still shut down, but my Facebook and Twitter feed are full of pictures that speak more than a thousand words. Each time I see the destruction of another familiar place, I grieve deeper.

The high school I graduated from, Dallas Lutheran School, took a hard hit. I haven’t been there in person, but every picture posted makes my heart sink lower. An aerial photo shows how the tornado sheered the roof right off, exposing classrooms, hallways, restrooms, and the library to water damage. Another picture captured the front lawn filled with crumbled brick, twisted beams, broken wood, and tree debris. The interior doesn’t look much better. Water stands in the same hallways where I used to laugh with friends. Classrooms, where I learned about Hamlet, the electoral college, cell division, the world, and myself, are beyond repair. 

Photo credit: Kurt Frieling

This school played a large role in shaping who I am. Seeing the damage hurts. But it’s just a place. If I’m honest with myself, the place is not what I hold dear, it’s the people. No matter how long it takes to rebuild and no matter what it looks like when it’s finished, it’s the people that will make the place special. 

And those people have already started rebuilding. Over 100 people showed up last weekend to help clean up the property. The teachers developed a plan so that students can continue school without the building for the time being. Other work days are in the planning stages. This school year will look different, but the people will be the same. 

The neighborhood in which I grew up will never be the same. It will look different and some places are gone forever. It is, however, a minor miracle that with such destruction there was no loss of life. The people that make a neighborhood more than a place to live, a school more than a place of education, and recovery something that isn’t done alone, are still here. In the end, that’s what matters…that’s what counts.

There’s a tremendous amount of rebuilding to be done just 30 minutes south of us. If you have resources to help, please do! 

Here’s a list of resources about the tornado from our sister site, Dallas Moms Collective:

If you feel led to give in the recovery effort of DLS, here is a link:


Ashley Ashcraft has spent the majority of her life in North Texas. Born in Dallas, she attended Concordia University of Texas in Austin for an undergraduate degree and spent her mid-20’s in beautiful, easy-going Hawaii where she taught at a high school and obtained a M.E. in Educational Foundations from the University of Hawaii. The birth of her first daughter, now seven years old, brought her and her husband back to Texas and to family. Since then, they’ve added two more girls and a boy to the mix. Ashley now teaches at Prince of Peace Christian School in Carrollton (Go Eagles!) and has learned it takes a village and a lot of grace to be a wife, mom of four, teacher, and avid Eagle fan, but she is thankful for all of it. In the evenings you can usually find her supporting Eagles’ sports, trying to keep up with laundry, coaxing her kids to eat meat, or enjoying time out in the neighborhood with her wonderful neighbors. Ashley is not an expert mom, but she’s surrounded by an amazing tribe of women that help her to be the best mom and wife possible. She recently started blogging at As You Do Life and you can also find her on Twitter @AshleyAshcraft .