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.