How the Tsunami Disaster Hits Parents Especially Hard

Sheri Reed

tsunami satellite Japan earthquakeThe death toll in Japan is already around 300, and, with so many people still missing, that number is estimated to surpass 1,000. Being on west coast time, I watched the horrifying live coverage of the tsunami last night when the news broke. It made me feel so helpless and sick to think about the people in all those cars and homes, as they were pummeled by the massive tsunami waves.

My 4-year-old shuffled out of bed, unable to sleep, and it was hard enough to explain to him what was happening, let alone think about all the kids in direct danger in Japan. How many of those cars, after all, had kids in the back seats, as their parents tried to drive for their lives to no avail. Oh, it makes my heart break!

Being a parent during these types of catastrophes adds a whole other complex layer of feelings and worries and heartbreak.

It's just a matter of time before we start hearing the firsthand accounts from parents in Japan who narrowly escaped and survived the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. But for now, here in America, we're already hearing tons of stories from parents whose children are living in Japan for work or school.

Mom Connie Sult, of Walkerton, Indiana, was so relieved when her son, Master Sargeant Jim Sult, who is stationed at Yokota Air Base, updated his Facebook page to say he had felt the quake but that everything was okay. Bless you, Facebook. You made one mother's day for sure!

When her phone range at 2:34 a.m. in the morning, Mom Anne Cathrine Blum of Pittsford, NY knew something was wrong. Her daughter Jacqueline Blum, 23, is living in Tokyo, training to work for Uniqlo, a Japanese clothing brand, and, full of worry upon answering, all Anne heard was "earthquake" and "OK." "Okay" has got to be the best word ever when you get a late-night call from your child amid a crisis.

Mom Sarah Metcalf of Northhampton, MA, whose daughter Chloe Metcalf, 23, lives in the outskirts of Tokyo, working as a translator for an engineering firm. Sarah ended up skipping work today to stay online with her daughter, who was still reeling with fear after the earthquake. I imagine staying connected made both mother and daughter feel a heck of a lot better about the extreme distance between them.

In less fortunate news, Mom Karen McGee of Plainville, CT has received no word from her daughter Nicole Rioux, 22, who teaches English in Japanese schools in Morioka. Oh, my thoughts are with her as she awaits word from her daughter. It must feel like time is standing still.

And what about the parents in Japan? The parental fear and worry for them is profoundly worse. I listened in horror this morning as journalist Lucy Craft, who lives in Tokyo, told NPR she had not been able to connect with her teen son since the tsunami hit:

Unfortunately, my son is starting high school very close to the epicenter and it's impossible to get through on the phone, so I really have no idea. I just hope that the school, you know, as usual, all schools and organizations go through evacuation drills constantly so I'm sure they're in a safe place.

How awful to be so close and yet still so powerless to get in contact with your child. Craft sounded remarkably calm, but I'm sure she was in shock and that her coping mechanisms and reporter training were working in high gear. Can you even imagine?

These stories from parents are heart-wrenching. I cannot imagine what the parents in the affected areas in Japan must have gone through, are still going through. Major catastrophes are harrowing enough when we must only consider our own safety and calm our own fears.

Hug your kids tonight, friends. I know I'm going to hug my boys tight -- and probably tell them, too, that they're never allowed to move out of the house.

Have you ever been separated from a child or family member during a natural disaster?


Image via NASA/GSFC/Aqua/Flickr

Read More