‘I feel pretty lucky:’ Downers Grove Mom reflects on 2021 tornado

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DOWNERS GROVE, IL — It’s been a year since a tornado destroyed Trish Axelson’s Downers Grove home, but she still can’t bring herself to fully watch the 15-second video her sons recorded as the trio huddled in their dark bathroom and listened as the storm destroyed their home.

“You hear me pulling them towards me,” Axelson said of the moment in the video where she clung to her sons, Evan, 15, and Sam, 12, preparing for the worst. “They’re almost as big as me, but I want to be able to protect them.”

The next sound Axelson hears in the video is the “clangs and bangs” that occurred when the June 20, 2021 tornado ripped the roof off his house, uprooted trees and demolished Evan’s bedroom. This is the point where Axelson has to stop looking.

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by Trish Axelson

Related: Downers Grove Storm Victim ‘Felt the Whole House Shaking’

At one point, Axelson and his sons opened the bathroom door to find rainwater pouring from the sky directly into the basement, two levels below.

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by Trish Axelson

The EF-3 tornado expanded three blocks and tore through three miles of DuPage County, hospitalizing 11 people, damaging hundreds of homes and claiming the life of an unborn baby.

“It felt like I was floating”

Immediately after the tornado, the family “lived off trash bags” that had been hastily filled with belongings they could salvage, Axelson told Patch last June.

Eventually, they found a rental home in Western Springs that became their home until mid-March 2022. In total, Axelson and his sons were moved from their home for nine months.

“It was like floating around for a few weeks because I don’t really remember it,” Axelson said of the rest of summer 2021. “Over the weeks and months, there were a lot of I cried, I especially felt sad for my children.

Away from their Downers Grove neighborhood, Evan and Sam were unable to cycle with their friends as they had during the summer months.

Axelson said: “A summer was taken from them, which sounds ridiculous, but people got it much worse.”

When school resumed, she first had to juggle between driving her two sons to their old school bus stop in Downers Grove and getting to work at 7.30am.

“I wanted them to have an experience that was as close to normal as possible,” she told Patch.

Eventually, the Vice Principal of Downers Grove South coordinated with the administrators of Lakeview Junior High to arrange a bus service to take Evan and Sam to and from school and after-school activities.

“The support from staff, neighbors and mom friends in the neighborhood has been amazing,” Axelson said.

Back home

Axelson and his family traveled to Downers Grove “every day or two” to watch construction workers, plumbers, electricians and eventually painters work to rebuild the gutted house.

Finally, in March 2022, Trish and her sons were able to return home.

Coming back “wasn’t like a normal move,” she said.

The family had to buy new furniture and coordinate with movers and insurance companies to get their old belongings back to their home. Some things came up piecemeal and other items were still covered in insulation, wood chips and dust that the tornado had blown around the house.

“It made me appreciate things more”

Axelson told Patch that she felt for the other victims of the June 20, 2021 tornado and was grateful things weren’t worse for her and her sons.

She still has nightmares about the storm and says she doesn’t know when – or if – that feeling of fear will ever go away. Evan and Sam track every approaching storm on their phones.

“It’s crazy how something we never even cared about in the past can affect us so much right now,” Axelson said.

Still, there were unexpected glimmers of silver lining in the tornado’s wake.

At work, Axelson helps relocate people who have been displaced due to emergencies. She said her tornado experience helped her connect with clients who were going through the same type of trauma.

In the year since Axelson’s world was turned upside down, much of his outlook on life has changed.

“It slowed me down and it made me not care about things I used to spend too much time on,” Axelson said. “It makes me appreciate things more.”

Also on the patch: Skeleton Key still ‘humbled’ by acts of kindness 1 year after tornado


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