07/08/2013 07:01 EDT | Updated 09/05/2013 05:12 EDT

Albertans Helping Albertans, Any Way They Can

When the flooding began in Canmore on the night of June 19th, nobody expected that the next few days would become such a nightmare for Southern Alberta. When the water finally began to recede, people transitioned from survival to recovery. Now, we're all learning to live with it.

The financial devastation is going to be incredibly difficult for many to handle. Even for those who have policies with insurance companies who are covering some of their damage, the floods have obliterated any budget planning and savings for a lot of families. We've been told for years that many Canadians are carrying too much debt. Something like this increases the burden of that weight and some may break under it.

The psychological trauma a person experiences after a natural disaster is often misunderstood. We expect that if we can deal with a bad situation, then anyone can. The reality, however, is that something that one person may be able to handle with a shrug could be too much for the next person and you just never know what that something will be. It isn't so easy to imagine walking a mile through flood waters in somebody else's shoes.

Minimizing our own personal circumstances or those of our neighbours can be a double edged sword. We end up comparing our woes to those around us and try to comfort ourselves and others by saying things like, "well, it could be worse," or "at least we're still alive" or "it's just stuff." But as one woman said on a media report in the aftermath, "I know it's just stuff. But it's my stuff, stuff I worked years for. And now it's all gone."

For a lot of people, the emotional toll will last just as long as the material hardship. There might be depression and sadness that it happened, shock and disbelief over how bad it was, and fear that it will happen again. There is also anger, shame and guilt, especially if you returned from an evacuation to your home just as you left it, while a friend came home to nothing. None of these emotions are wrong and hiding from them will only prolong the misery.

One way that many have chosen to deal with these emotions is by aiding in the recovery, trying to exert a little control over a situation that rendered so many so helpless, by helping in any way they can.

From the moment the rain began to fall, Albertans were mobilizing. From heavy equipment operators trying to shore up river banks to municipal workers evacuating residents in so many communities. Homes were opened up to take in friends and in many cases, complete strangers. Removing people from the immediate danger and preventing it from getting any worse was the first priority.

In the aftermath, volunteer organizations sprang up out of nowhere. There are still roving gangs of regular folks, getting dirty, cleaning out one basement after another. Businesses and individuals deliver food and other relief not only to evacuees, but to volunteers. While clearing mud from a friend's driveway in Exshaw with a number of other folks, somebody yelled "lunch!" and a pickup truck filled with pizza, cold drinks and bags of chips showed up. Donated by a local Canmore business and delivered by volunteers.

The community spirit is overwhelming and the volunteer opportunities are numerous. There are many people, however, who see their neighbours dropping everything to spend day after day in the hot sun cleaning the homes of perfect strangers, but can't seem to find the same time to devote in their own schedules.

Life goes on. People still have work, businesses to run, children to take care of, health issues, and other obligations. A natural disaster didn't remove those responsibilities; in fact it compounded many of them. It seems that every second person right now is doing a fundraiser of some sort to help those hurt by flood relief. When you're a single mother raising two kids who didn't have any extra time or money before the flood, where do you find it now?

No matter how much a person wants to help, not everybody can take vacation time to clear a neighbourhood, especially since not everybody has vacation time to take. Not everybody has a spare bedroom or rental property they can give to someone else to ease their burden. And sadly, many do not have the physical health or financial wealth to offer to make the difference they feel they should be making. Each of us is asking ourselves, "Am I doing enough?"

While the answer will be different for everyone, the solution is the same. Just do what you can, how you can, with the means you have available. Whether it's time or money you have to give, just give what you are able to afford and try not to compare your efforts to those of the person next to you. We each have our own circumstances and just as all of yours aren't public, neither are those of your neighbour.

Even giving a little is better than nothing at all. Evaluate your skills and come up with innovative ways to donate as only you can. If you were regularly donating what little extra money you had to a favorite charity before the flood, then just keep doing that if it's all you can manage. Charities that rely on donations for their survival on a regular basis will be hit very hard in the coming year as many people will be shifting their available funding to flood relief. The impact of this event will be felt everywhere, in every industry across southern Alberta.

Even taking a vacation in your own backyard this year instead of leaving the country will help. Communities that were also hit by the floods, like Banff and Canmore will be relying on Albertans to continue to come and visit, to support the tourism industry. Shop at your farmer's markets, buy local goods and services, attend local festivals and events and continue to support your neighbours in the myriad possible ways you might not have thought about.

The silver lining in this disaster is that it has brought Albertans closer to each other. People who didn't even know their neighbours before the flood now have their backs. The real legacy of this flood will be a renewed sense of pride in our communities, which sadly, had to be earned by going through a little hell together. And as the man said, "If you're going through hell, keep going."

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