Our mother's home was swept away by Katrina. The house was built by our dad, her late husband of 52 years, J.McC. Anderson (Mac, of the Shearwater Pottery Andersons), in the early 40's. It was rammed earth, inspired by a government pamphlet that he'd seen once, which described a house that had turned to stone, he used to tell us. He had built it in the hopes that it would turn to stone, too, and last through anything.
After Katrina, there was nothing left of the house but the bricks of the front porch and the cement foundation. All his precious art work that she'd carefully saved over the years, gone. All the linoleum blocks, prints, wood carvings, pottery that he'd so beautifully decorated, his hand-made cyprus furniture. All just gone. It was, as everyone described over and over, 'like a war zone'. Devastated, but, strangely, somehow sacred at the same time, purified. 'Matter became Spirit', to quote our cousin Mary.
Mama was in the hospital overnight for a shelter during Katrina. She was soon to be 95 years old, has congestive heart failure and needs oxygen to sleep well, so they let her in to the shelter, thank goodness. She was also terrified of being in the house during a hurricane, after Camille. They had stayed for that one.
After Katrina passed, there was no phone communication for several very long days. Then, one day, my sister, Adele, got through long enough to shout, "Everything's gone!" That was all, the phone disconnected, and she was gone again. We weren't sure at all what that meant.
Finally, the next day I think, communications improved enough to get a better image of the situation. We immediately got into high gear and prepared to go down to help out. We had to bring in all the gasoline we would need while there and enough to get out again, they told us. "Water and food as well. Everything you can think of that Mama might need. Clothes, nightgowns, she only has one. Her purse needs replacing, it was in the house. Bring food that doesn't need refrigeration, there's no electricity. Bring all the low/no salt stuff you can think of, she doesn't have any of that right now."
So, we went to get Mama and bring her home to Texas. She'd not lived anywhere except that house for over 60 years. For the last seven of those years, since our dad died, she'd lived virtually alone. My sister was with her, or a sitter. Quiet, surrounded by beauty and nature sounds. Occaisionally a noisy boat launch across the harbor. She usually went to bed around 7, maybe 8 at the latest. She was the center of that universe.
She came to live with us in Arlington -- her only other immediate family -- a family with six kids (well, not really, not any more, since we lost the oldest, Anne, last year to a brain tumor, so now there are five). It's never quiet here. She's confused a good bit of the time. Sometimes very, very sad about her losses. Sometimes she just misses Papa and cries for him to help her. But, sometimes, incredibly, she is alert, herself, and says she knows she's better off here. She realizes there's no place for her there, and she was lonely anyway, most of the time. She's glad, at those times, to be here in Texas, but wonders wistfully if she'll ever see Ocean Springs again, where she grew up, raised her brothers and sisters when her parents died prematurely (there were nine kids in her family, and she was second oldest), worked at Shearwater for years, married and raised her two girls. She says she wants to be buried there.
Mama loves to sit and watch the birds, and says we have a beautiful yard. That's when she's herself. When she is confused and angry, it gets very, very hard. It's hard for her, and for everyone else in the house, of course. We have a regular suburban 3-2-2, with my husband, myself, our second son (John), youngest daughter (Sara), and Anne's husband (Bruce), living in the house. Not a lot of extra space for anyone to find peace and quiet.
She needs the oxygen a lot of nights, and there are plenty of expenses we wouldn't have if she weren't here. Someone has to be with her 24 hours a day. So far, there's been money from emergency sources to take care of paying a sitter to stay most days while I work, and some nights. It's hard to see where that much money will be coming from for any length of time. We don't know what we'll do without it, though.
Anyway, so far, we are all managing. Dele is salvaging what she can of the artwork from Mama's house. I'm able to keep the work I was doing before Mama came going, partly from home, mostly during the time the sitter's here. Everyone else is doing their thing -- school, work, sometimes staying with Mama for a few minutes while I run to the store. She can't be left alone, because she's afraid, especially being in a new place, and forgets who she is and gets even more confused if she gets afraid.
There's one amazingly uplifting, beautiful new addition to this mostly otherwise story. Mama's very first great grandchild, Bella, was born a couple weeks before Christmas, and is always an absolutely guaranteed, unfailing anti-depressant, no matter what.
We're going to see if we can get Papa's prints made into silk screens and make some money that way. We may have to sell artwork but would prefer to leave that as a last resort because there's so little of it now.
We are doing everything we can to make Mama comfortable and feel safe. Sometimes she understands that and appreciates it very much. What an inconceivable experience for a 95 year old woman! We all remind ourselves often how many people were affected by that storm, and how many people are so much worse off than we are. It's mind-boggling, and we just pray that somehow, Good eventually comes out of it all.