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 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 retreat venue I closed, Nellie's Cottage, their new home. 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. 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 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...

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:):):)

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? 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 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!