By Karen Bromberg
October, 29, 2012.
It’s a date that’s burned into my brain.
I can’t believe it’s been almost five years since Hurricane Sandy pummeled the New York Metropolitan area causing fires and flood, causing houses to be damaged and destroyed. It’s amazing that after all this time, there are still some people who haven’t been able to return to their homes. The storm also caused billions of dollars worth of damage to the New York City subway system; damage that still being repaired.
On a far more personal note, it forced my parents out of their home, never to return.
Floodwaters destroyed almost everything in their basement and there was damage to their first floor as well. There was mold, too. Lots of mold. So much mold that my husband and I could smell it every time we went into their house. I kept getting sick from it.
The contractor we hired told us that it would cost upwards of $100,000 to make the house safe for my parents to return (no one had that), coupled with the flood insurance my parents would now have to carry (because, with Hurricane Sandy, their area became a flood zone), the cost for them to return became prohibitive.
Immediately After The Storm
There are no words to describe the feelings I had seeing the block I grew up on right after the storm. The closest I can get is to say that it felt as though I was in mourning. I looked around my old “stomping grounds,” as my mother would put it, and all I could think was “How could something like this happen?”
I remember my husband, nephew and I racing down my parents’ block, the only lights coming from the hard hats worn by the Con-Ed and Cablevision crews, the grrrr, grrrr, grrrr of the water pumps pumping water out from the basements and the smell of mold coming from the mounds of wet books, furniture and papers that had been placed at the curb for Sanitation crew to pick up and take away the following day.
There was the first time I looked into my parents’ flood-ravaged basement, expecting everything to be where it has always been — My grandfather’s barber chair and pole (taken from the shop he owned back in the 50’s) on the wall to the left. My parents’ old clothes and furniture, straight-ahead, toward the middle of the basement. The carriage my grandmother had pushed her baby boys (my father and uncle) in off to the right, opposite the stairs. I shone my flashlight into the darkness but all I saw was this gigantic, smelly, mold-covered mound in the center of the floor.
At first I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. It took me a moment , then I realized. “Oh my heavens,” was all I could say as I thought about how I was going to break the news to my parents. Seeing all their belongings ruined like that . . . well all I can say is that it broke my heart!
I called my parents’ insurance broker to let him know what happened. I wanted to know how much their homeowners’ policy paid for flood-damage. Boy, was I shocked. Turned out my parents didn’t have flood insurance.
“It was expensive and since the house wasn’t in a flood zone,” their insurance broker said, “I advised your father years ago not to bother. Why incur the added expense?”
Some Thoughts on on the Upcoming Fifth Anniversary
Hurricane Sandy acts as a kind of demarcation in my mind. There’s the time before the storm, when my parents were in their home, and the time afterwards, when they were in their Assisted Living then their Nursing Home facilities. There’s the time before the storm, when I saw my parents as they had always been, and the time afterwards, when I saw them (for the first time) as being old even though, at 89 and 90, they had been for a while.
Shortly after the storm, a friend told me something I’ve never forgotten. He said, “You probably can’t see it now, but one day you’ll look back and see that it as a blessing in disguise.”
I laughed. A blessing? Who’d dare call it a blessing. But now, with the passage of time, I can see what he was saying.
The hurricane forced me to deal:
- with the fact that my parents were elderly,
- that one day (sooner than later) they’ll die (much as I didn’t want it), and
- that I’d be the one to have to deal with the disposition of their belongings, (as much as I didn’t want to).
It also allowed for certain things as well. Things like:
- asking my my mother what items in the house were precious to her. While these objects hold no monetarily valuable, they are (now that my parents are gone) the things I also hold most dear.
- getting my parents blessing to sell the house. To be honest, I would’ve done it anyway. I didn’t like the house and neither did my husband. We weren’t going to live in it and had no desire to rent it. But, the house had been in my family since my grandparents’ time and, for no other reason than that, I felt awkward and guilty selling it. Having my parents’ approval made the process of selling it a little easier for me to get through.
- pre-arranging their funerals. That was a biggie. Prior to the storm, we NEVER spoke about it. I had no idea what they wanted, what they didn’t want. I knew nothing. The storm forced us to have “the conversation” and when the time came, all my husband had to do was make one phone call to the funeral home.
Now, obviously, I never wanted Hurricane Sandy happen. Who would? Despite the “blessings in disguise.” I never wanted my parents removed from their home of forty-seven years, never to return, and I never wanted family heirlooms destroyed.
That said, when the universe gives us lemons . . . what are our choices? We can suck on those sour lemons and live forevermore with our lips all puckered up or we can made lemonade. I choose lemonade! It’s tastier and goes down easier. How about you?
“The Unsuspecting Caregiver: My Experiences in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy and the Lessons I’ve Learned from It” will soon be available on Amazon.