Today is the anniversaries of both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Isaac, two storms that wreaked complete havoc in my state. Isaac less than Katrina, but still enough that lives and properties were lost and many things have still not been regained or re-established. Lots of people are posting remembrances today, but it’s a little more difficult for me to broach the subject. I was there, for work. With my husband, as he also worked for the same agency I did, and with my thin blue line family. Here is the short version I posted to my Facebook friends:
“8 years ago today I was on the front lines of one of the nation’s biggest disasters. Everything went to shit then got better. Trust that it’s something I won’t forget. The end.”
There is no way to describe the situation other than to say everything was terrible. If you’ve never experienced a natural disaster of that magnitude (which many folks around our planet have), then it’s hard to explain the feeling of loss that accompanies witnessing your entire life taken in as many minutes as years you’ve lived. Your town is gone. Your home is gone. Maybe your job is gone. And for the least fortunate people, your family members and friends are gone.
I feel fortunate. Not because today I will be experiencing the most severe PTSD ever, but because of what has been gained post-K. I’ve got a new home, new stuff, some of the old stuff that was salvageable( albeit a small amount), but most importantly I’ve gained a sense of what is most meaningful-the people I still have in my life. I was fortunate that I didn’t lose any family, even my cat and dog survived. The snake was lost, but I’m sure she slithered away in the water and is enjoying life in the woods somewhere living the life a corn snake deserves. I had a roof over my head, even though for some time that roof was that of the Cajun Queen, a paddle boat meant for short tours up and down the Mississippi River (Nothing like taking a shower with a hose on the deck of a boat in mid-October to wake you up!), and later a decommissioned ferry-boat where my husband and I shared bunk beds in an 8X8 cabin.
My thoughts and prayers and moments of silence go most to the less fortunate who did lose family members-some lost many in a moment, the people who couldn’t bear the burden that comes following such a travesty and took their own lives, those who weren’t able to recover and pined away for what was, and those who lived horrors worse than I and that I cannot even fathom. This empathy is not reserved for victims of Katrina or Isaac or any one particular thing. So many terrible events occur around the planet, and I agree with John Donne who wrote the words “No man is an island.”
I’ve long tried to accept the proverbial phrase “less is more”, and nothing has taught me to do that like Hurricane Katrina. What is stuff but meaningless collections of mass that can be lost in a matter of seconds? Katrina taught me what is most important to survival-physically, psychologically, and spiritually. My old home is gone, but I have a new home now. Man, am I thankful for that! I have food on my plate everyday. I have lots of great friends and family who are always there to help me, especially during the difficult times we more recently experienced after RB was diagnosed at 2 years old with brain cancer. Here is another short summary I shared on Facebook of what I was doing last year during Hurricane Isaac:
“A year ago today I was in Children’s Hospital, where we’d been for 8 months by then, during Isaac, in the dark going between trying to get weather updates on my phone and comforting RB who was still going through chemotherapy treatments at the time. Now we’re home, again things got better eventually. The end.”
Things have gotten better. RB is making progress everyday, and his scans have been stable for nearly a year. His next MRI is in September. There are no signs yet of the expected regression caused by the radiation and chemotherapy. He will soon get a homebound teacher and therapists who will come to our home and take over what I’ve been working on since February. He’s getting a stander and braces to help straighten his legs. We’re traveling down a very long path here, but there is an exit, and at this time, it is bathed in light.
So while today will be a day of reflection and bad memories, I would rather look forward than back. I would like to focus not on what was lost, but what has been gained, on what we’ve overcome and on our strength.
I’m late on my post, but it’s something I wanted to share. Yesterday was a bad day for me, what with the baby in the hospital and all. I longed to be spending my time with my family-at the park and having dinner like we did last Mother’s Day.
I wanted to write this as a dedication to some very special women in my life. Later is better than never, I guess.
I want to start with my maternal grandmother. She was born in 1926, but don’t tell anyone I told you. Her parents came to the good ol’ USA from Italy in the early 1900’s (or late 1800’s, I’m fuzzy on the details). My great-grandmother passed away when I was a toddler, but I vaguely remember that she spoke broken English and had a bird. She was a determined, strong woman who raised four kids and divorced her abusive husband-a very big deal to an Italian Catholic at that time. But she did what she had to, and they never had much, but they had what was important-lots of family. And pasta. I’m assuming the last part, but I know when I was growing up we always had a lot of that at my grandma’s.
I don’t know a whole lot about her youth, and I can’t begin to imagine what life was like for my grandma, the eldest of her siblings, helping raise the others. I figure things got pretty harsh at times, especially during the Depression. But they made it through, by the grace of God and by doing what was neccesary.
In her twenties, my grandma met and married my grandpa. They had three kids, one of which is my mother. The other two are my uncles. In his infancy, my grandmother’s middle son suffered an illness that left him disabled. I don’t even think my grandparents were given a clear answer at the time, but all I know is that my uncle suffered a high fever that damaged his young brain.
My grandmother spent days, weeks, months, years in and out of the hospital with my uncle-the very same hospital I am at now with Doodles. My uncle required many surgeries that spanned into his late teens or early twenties. She was told he wouldn’t walk or speak, but he does both-albeit with difficulty-and although age is taking the inevitable toll, he is able to participate in daily activities. He’s nearing sixty, and my grandmother-nearing eighty-six-is still caring for him.
I’ve learned that my grandmother has been inconsolable since she learned of Doodles’s illness, and I understand why. She is a mother, and she has been where I am, struggling, hoping, praying, begging for her son’s life. I am nearly her carbon copy, experiencing the same heartache, uncertainties, and longing that she did so many years ago. She is the only person near to me now that understands what it is to be me now, understands how it is to be the mother of a child with a life threatening and debilitating condition. She is one of an innumerable amount of reasons that I refuse to walk with my head down during this difficult time.
My grandmother’s youngest child is none other than my own mom. I don’t know how to begin to describe this woman. She is vibrant, exuberant, hard-working, no-holds-barred, badass, outspoken, lively, extroverted, loving, level-headed, funny, optimistic, and just a little quirky. She is the reason I love reading and writing. She is the reason I am everything I am today. I am proud to be her daughter. She is the reason I am proud to be a woman.
In this chapter of my life, my mother is my best-friend. Not always the case. There were those teenage years when I was becoming my own independent person, and we butted heads-a lot. But as an adult, and especially as a mother, I know she was kicking my ass down the right path. Figuratively, of course.
She is the woman who first introduced me to Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe and Hitchcock and old time movie monsters and scary movies and all the frightfully delightful things I adore. She is the woman who nurtured my imagination and creativity. She’s the woman with whom I sat on so many Saturday mornings or evenings watching pitifully horrible B movies and laughing our asses off (still do). She is the woman I would be if I were a better woman.
Lastly, I want to write about my late paternal grandmother. Like my maternal grandmother, I know little of her childhood, but I do know she was born and raised in rural Louisiana on a farm. At some point, they moved to the city, then the suburbs. She married my grandfather and they had three sons, one of which is, of course, my father.
I understand that in her youth she suffered an ailment in her legs that required the wearing of braces, and she continued to have some problems into adulthood. She worked hard to raise her kids while my grandfather worked shift work at a local refinery.
After the floods of Hurricane Katrina claimed their home, my grandparents moved back to the country to live out their twilight years. My grandmother became ill and didn’t recover, passing away just over a month before Doodles was born. She was so excited to have a great-grandchild, and if there is an afterlife, maybe she’s there watching us now and sending positive energy our way.
I love these women. They have shaped who I am. They deserve recognition everyday. And I thank them.