As Hurricane Ian devastates the state of Florida and beyond, my mind goes back to four years ago when it was us in the path of a deadly storm, and my heart goes out to those who are facing such a daunting and relentless path ahead.
We do this every year, many of us, more than once; prepare for the possibility of a hurricane visiting us. We are used to Summer ushering in, not just the tourists, but the Atlantic Hurricane Season as well. Hurricane Season begins on the first of June and lasts through the end of November every year.
Living in Florida, we know that during any given Season we could be at risk, so preparedness is something we take seriously. Most of us have weathered more than one hurricane in our lifetimes, however, for many currently being impacted by Hurricane Ian, this is their first encounter. They are new to our state and new to the kind of destruction these powerful storms leave behind.
We here in the Florida Panhandle remember what that feels like. We remember emerging from our shelters to what felt like armageddon. We remember the shock. We remember trying to come to terms with what our eyes were seeing and with what lay ahead for us. We remember the grief and the fatigue. We remember feeling cut off from the world outside. We remember the nightmare that had become our reality. We remember, and always will, October 10, 2018.
For those who’ve never experienced a storm like Ian, the process of coping with the destruction and loss will feel much like grieving. And like grief, you can’t skip over the steps. You have to allow yourself to move through it and experience it. More importantly, and above anything else on this journey, you must allow faith to become your strongest guide, and hope your most fervent ally.
You will get through this. It won’t be easy and it will change you in ways you never imagined, but you will get through it.
In the beginning, there’s denial.
The beginning of the journey will be the hardest. Coming to grips with the reality you’re now facing will undoubtedly feel overwhelming, and at times insurmountable. There’s a sense of, “is this really happening?” There’s nowhere to escape from the carnage. It will be everywhere.
In the first few weeks following Hurricane Michael, my family and I, along with the rest of the region, struggled to come to grips with the destruction of our homes and cities. We were without power, water, internet, and cell phone coverage for weeks, in some areas longer. We lived in campers, and tents, or bunked with neighbors and relied on portable toilets and boxed ready-to-eat meals. Those of us lucky to still have a home often felt guilty but so very grateful too.
Then comes anger.
As the days and weeks pass the initial shock and focus on survival will give way to anger and frustration. The once familiar landscape bears constant reminders and there will be moments when anger will be your first response. Anger at how long it’s taking to recover. How easily the rest of the world moves on. How alone and isolated you often feel. There will be days when the fatigue and stress settle deeper into your bones.
For weeks after Michael, we were cut off from the world outside. Internet and cell phone service, like the power, was completely wiped out. When the power poles fell, they took the internet and cable lines with them. In addition, the major cell phone carrier in the area suffered extensive damage to their towers and network cables, all of which were above ground. It was months before services like cable, internet, cell phones, and wifi were restored.
We sort of got used to being cut off. Unfortunately, once we were able to connect with the outside world, we quickly realized that it had moved on without us.
And then the bargaining begins.
There will come a moment in the process when you’ll begin to understand that the home you knew is gone. That’s an eye-opener for sure. I remember thinking, if only I could take a hot shower, I’d be ok. Then it was if I have to drink one more cup of “cowboy coffee” I’m going to go mad! Then there were the calls to insurance adjusters. The drives to and from the relief stations for water and food. The constant sounds of chainsaws and hammers and the blue tarps as far as the eye could see.
But there were also moments of complete silence. The sunrises and sunsets were more beautiful. Without all the streetlights the stars were visible at night. I began to cherish these simple moments, allowing myself to breathe and pray. In prayer, I found strength and the unquestionable knowledge that God had been with us through the storm and that He would not forsake us in the aftermath.
When it hits, the depression will be daunting.
Weeks into the aftermath, after long days of cleaning debris, of picking up pieces only to find more pieces, depression becomes inevitable. You’ll have moments of absolute despair. Try as you might to remain hopeful, it will happen. Trauma like this leaves indelible marks.
For me, it was in those moments when depression threatened that simple acts of kindness, no matter how small, became the balm that drew me out. Witnessing ordinary people willing to give in such extraordinary ways to help those in need, even while they were suffering too, is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. It quickly shook me out of whatever pity party I was having and reminded me that countless others had it so much worse, and others hadn’t made it at all. Over and over again I saw how truly resilient and compassionate people are.
Sometimes that’s all it takes. Witnessing someone else’s kindness, or extending kindness yourself, without the expectation of anything in return.
Gradually, acceptance comes.
As the weeks and months turn into years, acceptance will gradually come. You’ll reach a point when you’ll realize that you no longer think of what was as often. Cities will recover. Rebuilding will ensue, and slowly but surely life will resume. You’ll be able to look back with a bit more clarity, realizing that tucked into all those moments of grief and darkness, there was light too.
It’s been four years since Hurricane Michael, and the scars on our landscape are still visible. Every time I drive into my neighborhood, I remember what it looked like the day before Michael hit. So many trees, some of the oaks more than a hundred years old. The horizon looks so different and I know healing will continue long after I am gone.
But amid all that, the powerful signs of life renewing itself are also evident. New growth, new buildings, and a growing community reminding me that although grief doesn’t end, it becomes a burden more easily born. On the other side of the destruction, life finds its way, faith grows stronger, and hope nourishes the spirit as much as the newfound strength you’ve earned.
Looking back on my own journey, and praying for every soul now facing the same, I am assured of one thing, through it all I was never alone. I know this deep in my soul, for how else could I have made it through the storm?
I hear your cries,
I know the burdens you carry.
I will not forsake you,
or leave you in need to tarry.
In the darkness of night,
I am steadfast by your side,
until the sun’s first rays,
break through this darkest night.
Be not frightened or dismayed,
I’ve been with you from the start,
keep your eyes on Me,
remaining faithful in your heart.
Cling to all My promises.
Let My light be your guide.
I am your shield and fortress,
I’ll stem this rising tide.
As each new day dawns brighter,
then the one that dawned before,
turn your eyes to Heaven,
find the strength you’re searching for.
You are My hands and feet,
moving down this path I’ve laid,
guiding all who hear My voice,
into the dawning light of day.
JN Fenwick (© 2018-2022) | mothjournal14
“Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord, your God is with you wherever you go,” Joshua 1:9.