Weather’s dark side can’t subdue the human spirit

Two of the most heart wrenching Washington Post stories I have read in the past month involve D.C. area storms, the lives they claimed, the lonely aftermath for the affected families, and the painfully slow healing process.

On this blog we write a lot about storms, their dangers, and how well they were forecast, but we seldom explore the emotional toll when the consequences are tragic.

The two retrospective stories, published in Style, are dreadfully sad but deeply moving. They show how the affected families have persevered through their grief, making the most of their lives, in spite of their losses:

Woman killed by storm leaves legacy with five daughters


Kieran “Coco” Murray, Sean Murray, Quinn Murray, Meghan Murray and Maeve Murray pose for a family portrait on Thursday, July 24, 2014 in Chevy Chase, MD. (Photo by Yue Wu/The Washington Post)

Kelly Murray died when a likely microburst toppled trees in Chevy Chase, June 29, 2009, including one which crashed atop her minivan. (Related news story)

The five Murray daughters, robbed of their mother, are flourishing five years after the devastating trauma. Writes Ellen McCarthy:

The girls are on the honor roll and involved in almost every imaginable extracurricular activity. And they’re happy and chatty and outgoing, with magic tricks to demonstrate, bedrooms to show off and a pet turtle named Roxy who likes to make an occasional appearance in the kitchen.

“They haven’t just survived the tragedy,” [family friend Debra) Soltis says. “They’ve thrived.”

She let her son play in the rain. He never came back.


Tim Donaldson and Anna Whiston-Donaldson, whose son Jack died when he was swept away by a flash flood three years ago, stroll down the street August 21, 2014 in Vienna, VA. Whiston-Donaldson wrote a memoir titled “Rare bird” detailing her ordeal.(Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Jack Donaldson, 12 at the time, died in floodwaters during a week of historic rains in the D.C. area in September 2011, in part from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee. (Related news story).

Anna Whiston-Donaldson, grappling with the guilt of letting her son, Jack, play in a rainstorm in which he was swept away, has written an inspired memoir. Writes the Post’s Nora Krug:

Now, nearly three years after Jack died, she is about to publish a book: “Rare Bird,” a memoir about his death and her slow emergence from a cloud of shock and grief.

“I’d much rather have Jack than a book,” says Whiston-Donaldson in an interview at her home. “But if I’m going to have a book, I want something good to come out of it.”

Perhaps, she says, her story will offer help and hope to those in mourning and “soften the hearts” of those who cross their paths. Her message, she says, is universal: “Everyone grieves. Everyone in life is going to experience profound disappointment. We all have the opportunity to walk beside someone in crisis.”

Deaths from weather in Washington region, fortunately, are rare. Storm warnings are generally good and well-disseminated. But the tragedies of Kelly Murray and Jack Donaldson – and their families’ tenacious and admirable efforts to cope and recover – are somber reminders of the need to not only stay weather aware, but also help one another by passing along storm warnings to our networks of family and friends.

Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.
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Angela Fritz · August 28, 2014