My in-laws have found out that their home in Galveston is relatively damage-free. That’s wonderful news. They haven’t been able to see it yet, but a friend stopped by to check on it for them.
I can only stop to think, though, that they are starting down a long and arduous road. It’s been over three years since Katrina, and we still haven’t finished our journey to recovery.
It’s a life-changing event, and it takes a lot of adjustment.
Here are some of the things they can expect right away, when they’re able to return to the island:
First, the entire area will be permeated for months with the wonderful fragrance they’ll never forget: eau de stinky fridge. It’s impossible to describe and impossible to forget.
Stores — those that open — will have limited inventory and limited hours. The sound of generators will rumble constantly. Greeting a friend will change from "How are you doing?" to "How did you do?" Flat tires will become a way of life. Road signs will sprout up everywhere advertising semi-legal contractors using unskilled workers. Long-term plans will become meaningless, and it will become an effort just to make it through the day.
Having relatively little damage is good news, but it comes with a price: survivor’s guilt. There’s no such thing as “we’re all in the same boat”, because we’re not. Some people have lost everything. Some people can’t even find the street they lived on, because all the landmarks are gone. Some people will live in FEMA trailers for months or years, while others can sleep in their own homes.
Sometimes after Katrina, when the stress of everyday life in this war-zone was getting us down, we would think about our friends and neighbors who had lost everything. How could we feel sorry for our own situation when others were much worse? What was so special about us, and not-so-special about them? What did they do to deserve this? Why did we deserve to be spared? The guilt of being the lucky ones then just added to our stress, and it became a whirlpool of depression, fed by ever increasing guilt.
We tried to compensate by volunteering. Julie’s job no longer existed, so she spent many long hours working with Noah’s Wish, an animal rescue organization. I still had to work, so I did some publicity and fund-raising for them when I could.
Of course, seeing all the animals that were lost, abandoned, or just left behind didn’t help our stress levels any. (Please, take your pets with you when you evacuate!)
But they’ll get through it. It won’t be easy, but they’ll get through it. Then they’ll wall off those memories like we did, and carry on with their lives.
Good luck. You’ll need it. Just don’t feel guilty about it.