Sunday, October 15, 2017

Survivor guilt...aint' nobody got time for that!

My friend Peggy called to say she was bringing dinner to me & Michael. A few days later she came bearing roast with potatoes & carrots, rice & gravy, salad, homemade rolls & apple dumpling...it was a feast! As we talked she almost whispered "I hate to be in line somewhere and be asked if we flooded. I feel bad saying no." Her face revealed the depth of her "survivor guilt." The rest of the story about my friend is that her husband's dental office flooded causing great upheaval with employees and patients. She is providing housing for some family that flooded. She is helping with her church flooding recovery. And she is cooking and delivering meals to many! Survivor guilt...she ain't got time for that! 

I have survivor guilt too. My house only took on 10 inches of water. My daughter's home had over 4 feet, many of their belongings were destroyed. Their little family had a place to go...my retreat venue I closed, Nellie's Cottage, their new home. Soooo....my sweet daughter has survivor guilt for having somewhere to go, while mom lives upstairs in her half gutted home! 

Where does it end? Are we allowed to be grateful for the tender mercies that have come our way? Are we deemed callous to be glad our circumstances are not a worse case scenario? 

Yes, I believe we are allowed to be glad, grateful, & relieved. It is even NECESSARY that we do not allow survivor guilt over come us. Those in worse circumstances need us...desperately! 

Survivor guilt..."aint' no body got time for that." 

Survivor guilt 101...
If you did not flood (I hope I speak for everyone who did) we DO NOT begrudge your good fortune! We are glad and grateful you didn't...we have needed you to help muck out our homes, bring us supplies, provide us with meals because we are sick of fast food, AND bring a much needed stability and comfort to our lives! 

Again..we are GRATEFUL you did not flood!


I would suppose that there are some that could use a dose of survivor guilt. But those kind of people rarely feel the need to contribute to the world. During the storm and immediately afterwards we had a young man stay with us who was helping his sister with her 3 young children. He was a valuable asset to all of us in those first tumultuous days. I praised his efforts on behalf of his sister and asked what he would be doing if he was not with us. He replied "I'd be in Beaumont with my roommates, probably watching movies in our apartment. Keep in mind these movies being watched by his roommates were while people were being rescued by boats in life threatening conditions. So my theory proves correct in this instance..those who need to feel survivor guilt usually do not. 

Ironically, those who are running faster than they have strength to help those in need often do feel bad that they are in better conditions than others. Life cannot be a "I have it worse than you" fest...there is ALWAYS someone somewhere in the world that has a MUCH more tragic story to tell. So...how do we cope with "survivor guilt" when we are on the better side of those around us? It's simple, we help in any way we can. 

I had a cousin text me from a non-flooded area of Houston asking if she could share pictures of my flooded house with a Facebook group page. Those in the group were making snarky comments about not wanting to come to our area and help muck out houses. She wanted to set them straight and boy did I have a reply! 

"If people don't understand the devastation it means they are not doing enough for the ones who were devastated. You can quote me on that. They need to get their rear ends out there and be mucking out houses, washing clothes, buying groceries, feeding people, or babysitting kids. I don't have much time for laziness right now!"  (unapologetically me)

Survivor guilt is real, I am certainly not discrediting those who have it. Survivors of every tragedy face a long road of managing emotions they never anticipated, nor were equipped to manage. However, the roller coaster of "I am so relieved it wasn't me but feel terrible it wasn't me" can be channeled for the good. Many charities, scholarships, and "doing good" organizations came about in the face of a personal tragedy by one who decided that making lemonade from lemons seems a better way to live than sucking on sour lemons for lifetime of bitterness.

Survivor guilt...channel it, do good where you are able. Assume all good people are helping. Ignore the rest. 
In the words of one of the great survivor anthems of the 1970's by Gloria Gaynor

"I will survive...long as I know how to love I know I'll stay alive".....

Isn't this the answer to our survivor guilt? 
As long as we LOVE (and serve)...we will all survive! 
It always comes back to love... 

And so with all of my survivor guilt, I dedicate this song to horrible hurricane Harvey...
WE WILL SURVIVE!
https://youtu.be/Faf1ch7Q9XE

Saturday, October 14, 2017

"Unnna go home"...Madeline's plea

A home flooded, a family displaced, one of thousands along the Texas coast.
Three little blond girls and a baby brother, my daughter & son-in-law left without a home. 


Home is more than four walls and stuff in the closets. If there is love and kindness within those walls, it is our most longed for destination. Trips away are enjoyable, exciting and often planned months in advance and yet people usually declare "I am ready to go home!" 

Home is a comfy couch with our favorite cuddle buddies and a good movie. It is family gathered around the table for Grandma's best casserole. Home is where our best and worst selves reside in a great laboratory of human relationships. It is where we love and fight, forgive and hold a grudge, exhibit extraordinary patience and unbelievable selfishness. Home is full of great joy and overwhelming sadness. Home is usually a feeling of safety & familiar comfort, a place to hide when the world is cruel. 

Home is our people, our culture, our identity. 

In this experience of being flooded by Harvey, rescued by boat, housed by sweet family friends, working hours of monumental clean up & a great migration of belongings...THE most difficult thing for me to bear was two year old Madeline asking to go home. Her blue eyes would look deeply into mine and plead over and over again "Unnna go home." 

How my heart would break into a million tiny pieces every single time. Home to Madeline was just down the driveway behind my house where she would often be found naked & playing with her sisters, having escaped while mommy fed baby brother...haha! 

Home was a pink cozy coupe on the long driveway, Grammie's snack jar, daddy's shoulder rides, & mommy's stories. Home was riding the tractor with Grandad & swimming in our pool. 

Home was both her house and my house, as best described by a phone call I received early one morning from Travis just 3 days before the hurricane.

"Grammie, are you aiding and abetting a known fugitive?"  
I looked at Madeline perched in my rocker with chocolate Teddy Grahams, watching Peppa Pig and said "Yes, I guess I am!" 

These little blond girls had lived for four blissful years roaming between two houses on a three acre plot of land we all called home. It was an ideallic time...almost heaven. 

But it's over now, Harvey saw to that. 
And what of home? 

The three blond sisters, baby brother and parents have a new home...Nellie's Cottage. 

I have been working with Madeline "Do you have a new home" Home is the cottage!" to which she would give a resounding & grumpy two year old NO! Every day for weeks the it has been the same answer. Yesterday I tried again for the 67th time..."Madeline, you have a new home, the cottage is home!" Those bright blue eyes stared into mine, I braced myself for the NO! She sat silently, staring into my soul as if she had decided to accept the cottage as home. No reply came, but as she ran away to play I was relieved to see a re-kindling of her feisty little spirit. 

Even though the cottage isn't yet as familiar as her first home... the pink cozy coupe can be found on the sidewalk, 
the playhouse survived the flood...

AND daddy bought an epic new swing! 

The cottage is now where daddy gives shoulder rides, mommy reads stories, & Grandad gives tractor rides as he works on the property. And Grammie? Well, I pop by the cottage pretty much every day for hugs and kisses from little ones that mean home to me.

Home isn't a place, it's a feeling. 
And today, Madeline is finally finding what she has wanted all along....home.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The great belonging migration...a post hurricane hoarding confession

The days were a blur then, they are more so now. Water sat in our home for only two days. We were the lucky ones. 

Brittany & Travis's apartment took a few more days to dry...then the great belonging migration began. Brittany & Travis spent days wading through waist high water salvaging everything they could out of their house in bags and then hauling it upstairs at my house. Our upstairs was already pretty full of irreplaceable treasures & now would be filled to the brim with every single thing from their home that did not touch water. Things under water that were salvable formed a "need to be disinfected" pile, and other things like small appliances lined up on tables to be assessed later. Brittany said after days & days of this type of work "This makes me want to have nothing and live in a tiny house."                                                                                    


dare to say that everyone affected by this flood was confronted with various levels of "hoarding."                                                                                                                                                 


My hubby went on the war path months ago declaring that 50% of the stuff in our house needed to go! Before the storm hit I had just begun a "purge" however, the reality of his declaration and my purge style has a gap as big as the Grand Canyon. He is an Englishman who grew up with small cars, small closets, small grocery stores, & very small refrigerators. I grew up in the wide open spaces of Texas with a mammoth size family station wagon, grocery stores the size of football fields, and "let's make a quadruple batch of snickerdoodle Sundays" 

*(recipe to snickerdoodles just in case:):):)
https://nelliescottageretreat.blogspot.com/2011/01/my-dad-danny.html)

Michael & I do not see eye to eye on what constitutes too much stuff...hahahaha 
                                                                                                                                      
Anyway...back to the story. Brittany's belongings went to my upstairs, more of my stuff went upstairs where Michael & I are living. I was thrilled when they could begin to move their belongings to Nellie's Cottage which would be their new home. Thrilled! Until I realized that everything in Nellie's, Flossy's, & Kimberly's (all of my retreat spaces) would then need to be moved. 24 twin beds, 24 comforters & 24 sets of sheets, 24 fans, 24 folding tables & 24 lamps, 24 rolling chairs, 2 fully furnished kitchens & one kitchenette of dish & cookware, 4 furnished bathrooms, 3 embellished porches....oh my holy stuff!                                          

Nellie's Cottage has been a fully furnished retreat venue for 7 years. Every wall & surface was decorated cottage shabby chic style and it all needed to go somewhere to make room for Brittany's household. Where you ask? Yep...it would all make the migration to my torn apart, piled up, trail through the house...home.        

                                                                                                                                                                  The decorative collection and scrapbook store supplies from Nellie's now has a temporary home in Brittany's destroyed apartment...oh my holy stuff!     
                                                                                                                                                             Since all 5 of our Crossley & Tolman cars were flooded, a friends mini-van and our lowboy trailer made countless trips back & forth between Nellie's Cottage and my home in a great belonging migration. Downstairs the Tolman's rescued belongings would come, upstairs the mattresses & bedding would go. Decor, dishes and small furniture from Nellie's were piled up in Brittany's destroyed apartment behind my house. Why you ask, didn't I give it all away? Because all of the people who will be the recipients of my cottage belongings do not have a home at present! We are all in a "holding pattern" waiting for the humidity level to go down in our homes before sheetrock can be installed...and we live in a subtropical climate on the Gulf Coast...so any day now. Right?                                                                                                                             

Belongings, glorious belongings. Oh! we have them all right. Some are necessary for sustaining life, others for comfort or celebrations, some because we DIY everything, and some "because we can't pass up the fluffy grey pillow at Marshall's because it will look like a dream on my new bed!"                                                                                                                


Belongings become liabilities in disasters.                                                                                          


They are a burden to salvage, pack, shift, migrate, haul, unpack, & put away again. In our defense we are talking about belongings from 2 households and 3 retreat cottages and a small scrapbook store!                                                                                                                            


Will we change our ways?                                                                                                                   


Will we share what is packed in our closets & drawers with those who have lost everything?                                                                                                                                                   


I pledge to do just that.                                                                                                                         


Will you join me?                                                                                                                                        


My new goal is to not end up on one of those horrific hoarder shows...and it begins now...well maybe right after one more trip to Marshalls...hahahaha!                  

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The rains came down and the floods came up...

Tuesday August 29, 2017

I had been glued to the news for days, watching in horror the flooding hurricane Harvey brought to Houston. 


Living 90 miles to the east, I never dreamed our fate would be the same. Two of my siblings and our youngest daughter live in Houston. Anxiously prayers were uttered that they would not flood. Miraculously, all 3 homes stayed dry...and then Harvey set it's sights on us.

Tuesday was a busy day of errands in the rain. We bought some paper towels and chocolate and called it our hurricane supplies. Our home had no standing water in the yard at 11:28 am...15 hours later water would breach our walls.



When Michael & I arrived home around dinner time from town, we were faced with the probable reality of Brittany's home flooding. Michael joined Travis in trench digging behind their apartment in the downpour, but that effort was soon deemed futile. We began putting their furniture up on buckets and gathering everything off bottom shelves in closets and cabinets. 

Children find the adventure in everything...this preperation was exciting to Annabelle, Scarlett, & Madeline (yes she is naked, AGAIN) who had a grand time washing buckets so they would be clean to put in the house under the furniture...seems so silly now. 





As the water breached Brittany & Travis's apartment, 4 year old Scarlett was found running through their house shouting "Yea! We get to swim in our house! 
Mom can I put my swimsuit on?"
The little Tolman family made their last walk up the driveway to our house around 7pm. Brittany said when she closed the door to the home where they had lived for 4 years...it broke her heart. 



After the children were settled in bed upstairs at my house, Brittany, Travis, & Michael went back to continue moving more things in their home up to a higher location. 
After they did everything they could do at their house, we began putting furniture on buckets at my house. Emily Ochoa had evacuated to our home with her 3 children and brother David. They were a great help hauling important belongings upstairs...namely my collection of over 60 family scrapbooks!


Everyone finally went to bed but for me & Michael the terrible waiting began. Rain relentlessly came down in sheets. I watched anxiously as it covered each step up to our porch. Two more inches and it's in the house, one more inch, I would announce to Michael. When it covered the brick trim under the windows at 1:43 am, my heart sank with the realization our house would flood too.

For twenty years I had declared that the whole county would be under water before our house would flood, after all I said, the slab is 2 feet above the state highway in front of our home. Harvey, however had the upper hand. In 3 days around 54 inches of rain was dumped hour after hour in our small east Texas town. One local man measured 57 inches. For a bit of perspective, our annual rain fall is 60 inches.

Michael and I were sitting in the kitchen when the water burst through a under the wall at 2:26 am. It was surreal, like a bad dream you hope to wake up from...all of my feelings of safety and security in our home faded with this new & uninvited invader. As soon as the water entered our home, Michael cut the power. He was beyond exhausted and felt like there was nothing to do but go to bed and see what the morning would bring. 
I could not sleep, so with a flashlight I trudged around our home gathering more things from lower elevations. The most pointless thing I had done before the water came in was lay all of our extra towels and blankets in front of the windows just in case a bit of water seeped through! Again...it seems so silly now.

I filled the stairs with scrapbooks, Michael's genealogy, scriptures he spent years marking, the treasures of our life. A couple of attempts were made to sleep but my mind could not rest. I would tiptoe down the stairs to document the rising water, and again go trudging through our home through the water in the dark gathering things to stack on the stairs which would then be hauled up the stairs. 

The night was endless, the rain endless, and fear filled my heart. Sleep continued to elude me so I continued sloshing through a dark house gathering more important belongings, stacking them on the stairs, then hauling them upstairs to make more room for... more sloshing, gathering, & hauling...it was a long night.


August 30th 

Wednesday morning brought this view of Brittany's apartment from our upstairs window. You can see Travis wading to their home to assess the damage.


The view of our front yard and state highway 200 feet away was no less dramatic. In 20 years we have never had standing water in our yard!


I walked into the playroom to find Annabelle & Scarlett standing in the window looking at their home under water. I wondered if Scarlett thought it still looked fun... 
It didn't take long to realize we could not have 6 adults and 7 children upstairs in 3 rooms with no power and water downstairs! A message went out on Facebook to rescue the Tolman's & Ochoa's by boat. 

David Johnson who evacuated to our house to help his sister Emily with her children, walked to the end of our long driveway and flagged down a boat. The driver turned out to be the son of a family friend, Ben Adams...we were so glad to see him! 
The children thought this was another grand adventure to be rescued by boat, so smiles all around. It is a blessing that little ones see the world through their innocent and trusting eyes. The men went with the children, and the momma's were on the second boat trip with baby Luxton and Grandad, who wanted to make sure they got to safety.


The Tolman & Ochoa refugees were headed to our friends the Hatton's who live just a quarter mile behind us on a country road. They were high and dry and for the time being, still had power. Michael suspected that the railroad tracks had acted like a levy causing our neighborhood flooding...along with 54 inches of rain in 3 days! 
Aubrey Hatton met the boat at the railroad tracks with his tractor and trailer to ferry the refugees to his home. Thank goodness for good guys in boats, good guys with tractors and friends that did not flood! 
Michael helped Ben rescue another family and then came back home with me. We didn't want to leave our home after reports of guys in a green boat attempting a break in on a road very near to us.

Facebook post:
I love good guys in boats like Ben Adams. Tolman's & Emily Ochoa & her crew safely sent to Hatton's who have a dry house & power, via boat & tractor. Michael is staying. Me? I may go later but for now need sleep & a place to have the meltdown I've been trying (& not succeeding) to keep at bay. Thank you to untold family & friends checking in & reaching out. My sister Mitzi literally helped us save as much as we did via text warnings from Utah. We have a foot of nasty water downstairs & poor Brittany has at least 4 in her apartment behind us. God bless the first responders of all kinds & God bless Texas & Louisiana.

As I wandered & sloshed through our water logged home conflicting feelings were beginning to flare...grateful we only got 10 inches of water...guilty that my home didn't flood as much as Brittany's...relieved the children were somewhere safe and dry...unbelievably lonely without them...shocked that my home, my fortress & safe haven had been compromised....frustrated that our recent renovations had been damaged & rendered pointless.





When nightfall came we finished the day with a "romantic" (snarky sigh...) flashlight dinner of cereal, strawberries and thankfully still cold milk out of the fridge...yea for that!

After dark I decided to do a photo shoot of my home from the "flood zone"...it was just a tad bit creepy... 




When we would leave the water and head upstairs, feet and legs were cleaned with Clorox wipes...not the best for skin, but I had visions of flesh eating bacteria and so dry skin seemed a reasonable price to pay.

It was another sleepless night after we heard a great bang at the front door. We grabbed a gun and headed down stairs to find the front door compromised & the frame was cracked. We both felt like someone had tried to break our door. 
Feeling safe...how I missed the familiar feeling.

Thursday August 31st

Facebook post:
Report last night of a green boat breaking in homes on Doty Road. 
To the looters...most of us have guns & are watching our neighbors as best we can, taking pictures of everything. 
Oh and by the way, we are not in the best of moods...


It's amazing what is so very hard to do in the dark...like finding the drill, nails, and a suitable board to secure the front door. When daylight came nailing the door shut was the first order of the day.

Michael & I then ventured into Brittany & Travis's apartment. I shed tears at every turn. They have lived on our property, just down the driveway for 4 years. Building the apartment was a family effort in creativity with buckets of sweat equity. And here it was...
The water peaked at just over the countertops, and 2 days later had just receded 6 inches.








I waded around the front out our home for the first time. My eye caught the magnolia bench still standing stoically in the water on our front porch which brought another round of tears! 

Facebook post:
The strangest things make me break out in tears. This is my magnolia bench that Michael bought me many years ago as a gift. I have moved it several times. It's still standing right here on my front porch. Remember the movie Steel Magnolias? We can do this


Facebook post:
All of our devices are about to be out of power. Michael and I are totally fine. Maybe if the roads are completely clear to my house someone can come get me tomorrow night. The more hot I get the less my husband will like me!
Water has dropped 6-7 inches in our house. Brittany's about 5 inches below kitchen island. According to reports both Nellie's Cottage & Heart of Texas Family Medicine did not flood! Not sure about Flossy's Cottage & the bottom apartment did about a foot. Feeling grateful. On a side note...my pool is open for swimming...anyone?

Meanwhile at the Hatton's, where Brittany & Travis's family were staying....what hurricane? I marveled at the sheep peacefully grazing in the field behind their house, it was as if life had not changed anywhere. What a blessing! The children were able to play outside! The Hatton's had a generator so food stayed cold, and fans blew at night. Small & tender mercies would fill our next few weeks. 


This was the day we had credible information that a 30 ft wall of water was coming our way. The dams north of us were releasing water to avoid a breach and worst disaster. Brittany & Travis had waded through chest deep water to get home & retrieve more of their belongings when we heard the rumor so we made a rescue call & a boat ride back to the Hatton's. With very limited time until the boat came I ran around our upstairs gathering the things I could not bear to leave behind, my two laptops for our family pictures and the bucket of negatives from our life before digital cameras. I was forced to leave that bucket behind for lack of boat space. My every thought was for preservation of our family history in pictures. It was a strange and terrible few moments frantically racing around deciding what I wanted to save from the possible destruction of everything in my home. 
After returning to the Hatton's and gathering more information about the possible threat, the men immediately went back to our homes so Travis could save more of their belongings. Michael stubbornly insisted he would stay at our home for the night. I melted down for the hundredth time, crying inconsolably at the thought of our family being separated and him being in immediate danger. Thankfully he came back and I was much relieved. 

In the face of extreme stress my emotions were taking a beating and I found them hard to manage. As it turned out we did not have a 30ft wall of water come our way. However, those along the rivers experienced dramatic rescues and unprecedented river levels destroying homes and properties. For some, what they carried out in a plastic bag with a few minutes warning was all they were able to save. I had much to be grateful for...how could I complain? We were safe...nothing else mattered.

story to be continued...