Sunday, September 9, 2007

Thinking About Grandmaw

Two years ago today, my grandmother Leoma Sordelet died. When the storm hit, none of us knew where she was; I breathed a sigh of relief when she called me a few days later. She had evacuated with her sister's family to Atlanta. Worry took relief's place as our conversation went on, however. She was in pain; she had difficulty even speaking. On her birthday almost a year before, she'd told us that her breast cancer had returned. But I'd never been concerned that she wouldn't make it. Even as I spoke to her after the hurricane hit via telephone from New York, urging her to see a doctor, I couldn't imagine that she would die. It was only when she began speaking about being "ready to go" and "letting the Lord take her" did my fear set in. And she insisted that she did not want medical attention. A few days later, my father (a firefighter who remained in New Orleans through the storm) took a bus to Georgia and my mother (who had evacuated to Memphis, TN) flew down. They forced my grandmother to go to a hospital. Still, she died on September 9th at about 6pm. For the first time, I saw my father cry.

I feel grateful that I was able to hold her hand before she passed (literally hours before). My co-worker, Angela Macias, generously gave me her frequent flyer miles so that I could get there. I will never forget that. After Grandmaw passed, my brothers and sister came down and we said goodbye. There was no way to plan a proper funeral... 470 miles away from home and unable to return, our relatives scattered across the country in temporary homes. My father decided to have her cremated and return her ashes to New Orleans. I still feel sick when I think about us standing in the parking lot of that crematorium, where they kept the incinerator, watching the cardboard box that held grandmother's body being shoved into that machine. She would not have wanted it that way.

I do blame Katrina. She made no exceptions for the most vulnerable of us. Even those elders who made it out of New Orleans before she hit experienced great stress and profound loss. My other grandmother suffered a stroke that January (2006). And I just got word that my great-aunt, Auntie Dot, died from a heart attack. Katrina's arms are long and her affect is wide. It has been over two years and she's still stealing lives. About a month ago, my cousin Caroline (who is 4 years my mother's junior) passed away due to complications from surgery following a brain hemorrhage. One cannot help but connect these stress-related deaths with that unprecedented disaster. We say, "The sun is always rising; we cannot hold back the day". The world does not stop for tragedy, but we will never forget. It seems she's not letting us forget either.

Updates on the progress of the house are coming soon, y'all. I just needed to post this as a tribute to my dear grandmother. I miss you, Grandmaw.


Alan said...

don't forget, the hurricane barely 'hit' us. if those bums at the army corps of engineers would have done their jobs right, the city would have basically suffered some high winds and rain, not utter disaster. that's why i refer to the disaster as 'when the levees were broken', not as Katrina. hell, for the most part, katrina missed us (if it was a direct hit, the deaths probably would have been multiplied by ten).

Kiini said...

thanks for this, Jenga. I am constantly talking about some of these "wide-armed" effects to others. How stress and grief have a lasting effect over all survivors, but especially the most vulnerable due to illness, old age, or poverty.

PapuCharlie said...

right, you are, Alan. i should have been more specific. it was not the hurricane itself, but the failure of the government to protect the city and its people, that led to this tragedy.

Mtume said...

I disagree with Alan. It wasn't "those bums at the army corps of engineers" that let us down. It was the funding powers-that-be at the federal goverment. (And to a lesser extent, the local government.)

Did you know the Army Corps of Engineers had been warning for years that the levee system needed serious work? Did you know their budget had been cut four years in a row as "the war on terror" became a bigger priority than domestic spending? Did you know they STILL haven't gotten the funding they need to create a flood protection system that will actually work to protect the city?

They can't make miracles. They need proper funding to do a proper job. The feds say they're with us, but when it comes time to write checks, they show us that they don't care at all.

And Jenga, thanks for that piece about your grandmother. I didn't know her specific story, but it sounds so familiar. So many of our older people have died in these two years since Katrina. I'm sure some of them would've passed anyway, but the numbers are too high to simply be normal. If I didn't believe in the concept of "the will to live" before, I believe in it now. In almost every story I've heard about older people dying after the hurricane, it's said that the person "lost the will to live." That they said, "I'm ready to go," or "I'm too tired to go on" or something like that. It's a bad, bad situation.

Alan said...


you're saying that army corps of engineers made the best levees they could after decades of congressional expenditures? your position is they just needed a few billion extra tax dollars to do the job correctly? you're assuming that four years of funding cutbacks had any actual effect on the state of the levees (arguably on maintenance, but even if their funding levels were kept unchanged or increased 5% annually, that would not have been sufficient to essentially rebuild levees that weren't built properly INITIALLY).

it's illogical to build something insubstantially in the first place, than ask for billions to get a second bite at the apple. Although the loss of the wetlands has allowed for far higher storm surges in past years, what this illustrates is that even in a best case scenario, the initial levee system was 'just adequate', when what we needed was a system equivalent to the levee system in Amsterdam, a city similarly situated below sea level and equally susceptible to flooding absent such a system. if you find me evidence that the ACOE was asking for the funding to build that kind of system in the 50's, when the netherlands started construction on their much more effective levee system, then you're telling me something.

but you're talking about the past years instead.

Your position that the ACOE did all they could and if only their funding had not been cut over the past few years, the levees would not have broken is erroneous and ahistorical.

Alan said...

'past years' should have read 'past FEW years'.