Thoughts on “In the Wake of the Storm: Living Beyond the Tragedy of Flight 4184” written by Terri Severin:
When I found out there was a book written about the plane crash on Halloween night in 1994 near Roselawn, Indiana, I needed to read it. For most people, that night 20 years ago was but a blip in their everyday life, as it was mine. Tragedy happens every day, and to take each horrifying event and make it your own would be too debilitating.
As the G.M. of the cemetery described in the book, I have always been curious about the special section set aside as a memorial to those poor souls who put their trust in that airlines to see that they would get to their destination safely. Although the events portrayed in Ms. Severin’s account of that day and the many difficult days, weeks, months and yes, years after the crash happened 12 years before I was hired at the cemetery, I needed to read her words.
I have read some of the greatest works of both fiction and non-fiction writers over the years, from Tolstoy to James Patterson, and from Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Zeus. None of their books have had the impact on me that “In the Wake of the Storm” has. Perhaps it is because there are mortal remains from that night here at our cemetery, or perhaps because of all the names on a beautiful granite monument that signify so much more than chiseled letters on stone, or the fact that I had the honor of meeting the author , but her work impresses.
Besides being a difficult story to write because of her personal relationships with the victims (sister and nephew among those who perished that night), the writing itself felt like it was inspired from a place greater than from the mind of a mere mortal. The pages begged to be turned as the deaths of so many were tragic as an event, and horrible for the survivors emotions, which were constantly being shredded from so many directions…from airline officials to government officials…and lawyers who smelled money instead of the fear and loss of so many who were left behind.
The book is written with eloquence and grace when it could have been filled with hate and spite and animosity if written by anyone but the supernaturally inspired Terri Severin. All of her points were on point. Her patience and investigative abilities combined with her need to protect the future of her surviving nephew took her places that most of us would never have dared tread. Along the line, she became the advocate for all the passengers on that ill-fated flight and for all of us who will ever buy a ticket to get from point A to Point B via air in the future.
Her book would be an award winner if written as a fictional piece because the details and events are portrayed in such a way that completely captures the attention of a reader and does not let go ‘til the very end. But it is not a fictional account which makes the story even more gripping. There are parts to the story that will suck the breath out of a reader and one page in particular that can cause a reader to bleed from the soul. Although nobody can really know what another person feels, whether happy or sad, her story makes even the most callous among us “feel something” in ways that we wish we never want to feel.
There is no happy ending to her book. How could there be? So many families lives changed forever when it was not necessary does not make for a happy tale. Yet, my take-away from this book is that love trumps everything, that purpose pursued to an end is important and that even one single human on a mission can change the world.
I am sorry that such a book needed to be written, but I am also blessed to have been in the presence of genius as I turned each page with anticipation, sympathy, and empathy. The story depicted in this masterpiece must be experienced to understand even some of what every man, woman and child experiences when faced with the loss of a loved one, whether on an individual basis or in a mass tragedy. Terri Severin reveals the despicable underbelly so many departments and agencies and groups that were involved in the aftermath of the crash, while honoring the outstanding and caring work of first responders and many other considerate and loving individuals she met as she unraveled the puzzle of why simple thoughtfulness was not offered as standard operating procedure after a plane goes down.
Needless to say, I highly recommend that this important book be read by everyone and be reprinted for eternity to let all who dare explore such disasters know that the prevention of the loss of real people should be their motivation. When we all get away from the numbers game and look into the face of each Patrick, or Patricia or Hank or Thomas and know that, but for the grace of God… well, read the book and you be the judge. As for me, I thank Terri Severin for having the courage to gather the facts through her own sorrow and suffering, and leave us all a little better off for her willingness to get involved.
To buy a copy of this book, stop in at Calumet Park Cemetery at the corner of 73rd and Taft in Merrillville.