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.

As Thursday, September 29, 2022 dawned, more than 2 million Florida homes and businesses were without power and the world was getting its first glimpses of the massive destruction Hurricane Ian left in his wake. And he wasn’t done yet.

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.

Mexico Beach, Florida, United States October 26, 2018. 16 days after Hurricane Michael. | Shutterstock | Licensed for use

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.

The uprooted tree and the debris from Hurricane Michael, Bay County, 2018 | Shutterstock | Licensed for use

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.

Beautiful clouds lit by the setting sun. | Shutterstock | Licensed for use

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.

Mexico Beach, Florida – October 18th, 2018: A home destroyed by Hurricane Michael, lifted off its foundations and pushed into another building. The American flag waves as the sun sets, giving hope. | Shutterstock | Licensed for use

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?

Image from Shutterstock | Licensed for use

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.


  1. Living in the Panhandle my whole life like so many others know what to do to best prepare for a hurricane. The recommended information we have all grown accustomed to is have your basics… enough water, food, medications, money etc. to last each member of the family for 3 to 5 days. Little did we all know that. that would be a tiny drop in a bucket as to what it would take to survive this catastrophic event! I wish there had been a way to store up several months supply of HOPE, COURAGE, FAITH and knowledge of how to move forward after such a life changing event. That is what we need each other for!! 850STRONG!! Love your story!

    1. Thank you! I’m so glad you commented and pray you and your family are healing and moving forward. It’s been a surreal few months but I have no doubt that hope, courage and faith will prevail in the end! God bless.

  2. My home sheltered eight people and eight fur babies throughout the storm. She was a fortress but suffered much internal damage. In hindsight, I am both grateful to her for her shelter during such a monstrous storm and sad that we all now suffer a little bit emotionally whenever the wind blows. Thank you for your thoughtful, well written prose that gives credence to why so many of us decided to stay. You are right – we cannot prepare for something like this. We can only pick up the pieces in the aftermath and hold hope close to our hearts that things will eventually get better.

  3. Great write up about the most devastation happening in my home town of Panama City,Fl
    All the areas effected!!!!
    I dont think its fatomable to a totally grasp the horror!!!

  4. We have all shared tears and fears..
    We are all sharing Hope’s and dreams
    We will remain one…strong ..

  5. Thank you for putting into words what we all went through. And it is far from over. Our world has been changed forever. Clinging to hope that positive change is on the horizon.

  6. Wonderfully prepared article .we evacuated when the order was given. Just so much devastation .thanks to the beagle maker we love you guys

  7. I have never lived thru anything like this. We sat thru it and it was horrendous. It is like a warn torn country. My heart breaks every single day. The trre
    es, oh the trees. The trees are broken, snapped right half. The people still on tents, no water. This is a travesty that no one understands unless you see it with your own eyes. Pictures don’t show how horrible ot it. And, if you don’t live here, no one knows it even happened.

    1. We are changed forever. By surviving, by grief, by trying to rebuild our lives. It’s heartbreaking, but so very real. The world outside will never understand, unless, as you said, they experienced the same. God bless you.

  8. Thank you for this. We had to move away from everything we knew. Our lives uprooted as we try to adjust to strange jobs in a strange town. We lost our friends who lost their things as well. We just had to leave them to go it alone. Our hearts will forever be in Bay County though we now reside in Alachua County 😥

    1. God bless you. This storm forced some tough decisions on us all. You have to do what’s best for you and your family. Sometimes that means leaving, though it breaks your heart to do so.

  9. Very well written. I felt every word. I too have been changed forever.

  10. We serve the FL Panhandle every day- tomorrow groups from Knoxville, Sopchoppy, and Rutgers will be on the ground helping people! I’d love to collaborate. We believe in perso-to-person help… bringing help and hope and support to those impacted by the storm.

  11. My heart still breaks for you . My eyes still cry for you . You are in my prayers always

    1. My heart fills with sadness for these special people with withstood such a horrible event.
      I can only help by making Quilts that were given to folks by Quilt Blessings for the Panhandle. Thank those ladies for gathering quilts for folks who have lost most of everything. As of today, 3/17, over 1400 have been distributed. More are on there way. Prayers to all affected.

      1. That is so wonderful!!! I’d love to do a piece on your project! Maybe you could message me through FB or send me an email through the blog with your contact information?!

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: