Going home, but to what?

Published 10:00 pm Friday, August 19, 2016

Letting my son go to start a new life in college has been an unbelievably hard thing as a mother to accept; there was nothing to prepare me for the empty feelings and empty seat on the car ride home. Life at home will be forever different, the family forever changed. I left campus in tears, with a heavy heart and profoundly sad. My baby boy was gone.

Oh, and did I mention that I dropped off my baby in the middle of a federally declared disaster zone? With high water rescue vehicles parked strategically nearby, and TV news and military helicopters crisscrossing the skies? With the aptly named Cajun Navy staging their flat bottom boat rescues from suburban parking lots? With Red Cross disaster mobiles darting here and there and tired first responders on round the clock duty?

Such was the scene in Baton Rouge this week when areas surrounding the city took on as much as 30 inches of rain in a few hours. The LSU campus was spared the brunt of the storm and officials decided the show must go on. And so must wary parents.

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We left campus and headed north about 75 miles before stopping at a motel for the night. This morning in the breakfast lounge, a woman seated at a table asked me whether I had any news about Denham Springs. She mistook me for one of tens of thousands now spread out across the Gulf region in motels, homeless and stranded from the flood.

Did I look that bad, I wondered, sort of laughing at myself. I knew I looked tired, worried and sad after leaving my son, but not homeless-flood-survivor bad, surely not?

As she told me about her family’s harrowing waterlogged ordeal, it was exactly the slap in the face I needed to come out of my sad funk. No matter how bad I thought I had it, I wasn’t facing the loss of everything I owned except the wet clothes on my back. Of wondering where my 80-year-old mother was, of where I was going to get my diabetes medication, or how long I could last at a dingy motel by an interstate truck stop in the middle of hot nowhere before the money ran out.

“The water just came up so fast,” she kept repeating, wiping away tears. She told me about her neighbors who tried to carry their dogs to a boat but lost them in the waters.

Thanks to a local church loaning her a cell phone, I learned she had been able to make contact with her son working on an offshore oil rig and he was being flown to shore so he could come get her, but to where they would go after checking on their home, if it was even still standing, was unclear.

When Sheryl asked what I was doing at that motel, I told her I was on my way home after dropping off my son. She beamed, and said her son had also gone to LSU and she knew immediately what I was going through, having a child leave home.

“It’ll be hard, cher,” she said, using that distinctive South Louisiana term of endearment, “but you’ll get through.” She gave me a hug. “Louisiana will take care a’ him.”

So there we were, two mothers, talking about homes that will never be the same, but about getting through it. My conversation with Sheryl was just what I needed, but she, and thousands like her, will need a tremendous amount more in the days, weeks and months to come.

* * *

There are many ways to help those flooded out of their homes, businesses and schools in the 20 parishes impacted by the recent storm. One of the most quick, strategic and effective ways I’ve seen help arrive is through church networks.

In communities close to the flooding, churches are doing everything from taking in families, to providing laundry services, cell phones, phone chargers, car rental help, transportation to relatives/friends in unaffected areas, or assistance with hotel/motel charges. Those churches would welcome outside monetary support in the form of Wal-Mart, grocery or gas gift cards. Check with your local church to see how the church network has been activated.

Vets and shelters in the area could also use monetary help in caring for and finding homes for lost and stranded animals. Foster pet homes are also needed while people sort out living arrangements.

And once crisis mode subsides, and the clean up work begins, again, church construction groups and other specialty tradesmen will be welcomed, probably with a large pot of gumbo and a crawfish boil. Cleaning supplies will be needed and restoration services companies will be highly sought after.

The Cajun Navy also has a Facebook page with posts sharing information for people wanting to help. Have first responder training? Contact parish fire and rescue departments to see what help is needed. In some places, fire and police departments were completely flooded, and first responders are also homeless.

Samaritan’s Purse and United Way are two national organizations working to help, but there are also dozens of local groups requesting specific assistance including Second Harvest Food Bank of Baton Rouge, Louisiana Association of Educators, the Junior League of New Orleans, Salvation Army of Baton Rouge and more.

~ Claire Sachse, Managing Editor