You had a very difficult day. Nothing seemed to go your way. You are tired, you are cranky, and you are stressed. You are so looking forward to relaxing. You want a break. Scratch that. You NEED a break! You put on some comfy clothes and perhaps grab a snack or maybe a glass of wine. You sit yourself down on your couch remote control in hand. You aim it at the television and let out a quiet sigh of relief. Finally you are going to get the break you deserve.
Your favorite TV show is not on. Instead every channel you select is featuring coverage of a tragic event – brush fire, school shooting, earthquake or hurricane. You pause and watch. You feel terrible for those affected. You vow to make a contribution to help. Maybe you end up doing it. Maybe you don’t. You sympathize with those affected and you feel like you understand their plight. But do you?
I can tell you first hand, you don’t. No matter how much you think you can relate to the heart ache and devastation you see on television you can’t until you lived through a catastrophe, like Hurricane Sandy. Trust me, I know…. And I hope that you never have to know….
Images on television don’t prepare you for how helpless you feel as you watch your brother-in-law’s home, the home you evacuated to, fill with over a foot of ocean and bay water within moments. The images don’t prepare you for the panic and desperation your feel as you and your nieces help your sister-in-law elevate her antique chairs to try to protect them from the gushing water before you all move to another room to try to save her clothing that was on the bottom of her closet. Keep in mind that all this is happening while the wall to wall carpet begins to sway in the waves.
Images on television don’t prepare you for the fear you feel as you and your husband get into your sister-in-law’s car, because his car was destroyed by the flood, to venture to your home to access your damages. You know you will find major damages when you get there, but you don’t know how severe they will be, and you are afraid. You pray that you will find your home where you left it.
As you drive you see images out of a television report. You see down trees, missing roofs, pieces of boardwalk on people’s front lawn, and sand filling the streets. While these images are similar to what you have seen previously on television from past catastrophes these images are different. They are from your home town. You know the people affected and your heart hurts.
Images on television don’t prepare you for the moment you arrive in front of your own home. If you are lucky your home is still standing. Your breathe hitches in your throat as you slowly open your front door, fearful of what you will find inside. And when you walk in you wish you could walk right out. Ocean in your den…. Major flooding in your basement….. Loss of property… Structural damage…. The list goes on and on.
Images on television don’t prepare you for the emotions you feel as you find your friends and neighbors. You are relieved to see they are physically alright. You are heartbroken to see that their homes are just as devastated as is yours, or maybe even worse. You hug each other. You cry. And sometimes you even find a reason to laugh.
Images on television stop after the major event is over. It isn’t their fault. No one wants to see old news. Images on television don’t show the aftermath….
No one knows how your days and nights are spent cleaning up and throwing out all your destroyed belongings, in the cold and the dark, as your basement ceiling collapses on your head. You are covered in dirt, muck, and sometimes sewage. You feel filthy, but you can’t bear to take a cold shower on a New York November day, so you don’t. You forget the basic necessities; you forget to take your medicine and brush your teeth. Day turns to night and back to day again. You lose track of the hours and the days as you try to help your neighbors and friends who are in the same or worse condition as you are. You share necessities – flash lights, batteries, bottle water, garbage bags, and even a car. And if someone miraculously has a cell phone that works, you share that too…
You realize who your friends really are, and you see people’s true colors. Some shock you in a good way, some in a bad way. Regardless, you know you will never forget these moments, although you really want to.
Weeks pass and life returns to normal that is for most people, but not you. You are a person who was hit hard. You may be staying with friends or you may be struggling to stay at home. Regardless you still are struggling…. You feel a wide mix of emotions. You are sad and angry that you have to endure this. You are jealous that others are going about their life as normal. But you are also thankful that you are okay, and you know that in the future, one day too your life will return to normal…. You just hope it happens soon.