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This is My Hurricane Harvey Story, Part 2 :: The Aftermath

Read Part 1 of Emily’s story HERE.

The Monday after the storm, the water had receded in our home and my in-laws came over to help assess things and try to clean up a little. It was daunting how much needed to be documented and then thrown away. I wasn’t ready to start, but we couldn’t waste any time either. As my husband and father-in-law worked on the best method to remove my expensive, soaked area rug from the house, my mother-in-law began lining up toys that were destroyed so I could photograph them and then throw away. We worked until my kids awoke from their naps.

After two days of being trapped upstairs, the kids were ready for a change of scenery – and our house was beginning to smell very foul. As soon as we discovered the power had turned back on in my in-law’s house, we packed up some bags and carefully drove our family to their house. They live exactly two miles west of us, and hardly any houses on their street had flooded.

The next few days following the flooding of our home were a blur. From sun up to sun down, we worked in that house, cleaning up and removing item after item. We hired a remediation company to demo the first floor of our house. They cut up to four feet of our sheetrock on all of the walls. Next, they would rip up the wood floors. They couldn’t really get going on the job until we got everything out. I continued with the endless and exhausting task of deciding whether an item was damaged, if it was worth keeping, and filling up trash bag after trash bag {after taking photographs, of course}.

This is My Hurricane Harvey Story, Part 2 :: The Aftermath | Houston Moms Blog

I discovered that our local Jewish Community Center, which also flooded severely, had become a hub for supply distribution. They used the only building on their campus that didn’t receive water and turned the indoor tennis courts into a full-blown supply center. Volunteers from all over the community flocked to the JCC to help those who were in need.

I worked in our house exactly 30 minutes before I realized I needed so many things we didn’t have. Plastic bins, boxes, packing paper, packing tape, sharpie pens, bleach ­– the list goes on. Thinking that it would take me 10 minutes to get to the JCC – as it usually would – I ventured out on my own in our miraculously obtained rental car that I still hadn’t gotten comfortable driving. Little did I know that every single traffic light was out and the cars backed up as they slowly alternated turns to go. I finally got to the JCC, and I was instantly greeted by a friend who had flooded Memorial Day two years prior, and she was now paying forward the help she had received from her disaster. She took me around the tennis center, carrying most of my supplies {even though I was fully capable of holding them myself}. She made me take supplies I didn’t think I needed, which in fact I did end up needing. She escorted me back to my car and gave me a big hug. All of the sudden, I didn’t feel alone in all this.

I continued to work in the house, clearing out room after room. People started asking to help, but ultimately not even my husband could help because the decision to keep or toss things could only happen in my brain.

Soon, crews of complete strangers would begin showing up at our house. I began to figure out work to delegate out, such as moving our really heavy furniture out to the front yard, and moving large, salvaged items upstairs. Our sweet neighbors, who also flooded, sent their teenage son and all his friends to start. They were the first to help us. Then a group of volunteers through the Bellaire Recreation Center came to remove the furniture the other boys weren’t able to.

This is My Hurricane Harvey Story, Part 2 :: The Aftermath | Houston Moms Blog

It was that second group that somehow re-connected me to my emotions again. We were all standing in the dining room staring at my beautiful Cherrywood table, and I asked their opinion on refurbishing the legs versus throwing it away and claiming it through insurance. The damage didn’t seem that bad and since I had been able to save the chairs, I really wanted to save the table. They convinced me that if I refurbished it, the cost would be out of my pocket. Plus, when would I have the time or energy to worry about that on top of everything else I had going on? I knew they were right. And all of the sudden I was swallowing back tears that were on the verge of rolling down my face. I told them to take it out front, and I quickly walked to the backyard and went behind my garage to release everything my initial shock had prevented me from letting out.

From that moment on, I never had to return anywhere to get supplies. Friends and neighbors began doing all of that for me. They dropped things off, even if I told them I didn’t need anything. One neighbor {whose garage and cars flooded} brought sandwiches and fruit over around lunch time each day. Another neighbor {whose garage and cars had also flooded} did some of my laundry. One friend stopped by unannounced with chocolate in hand. I wanted to kiss her. Another friend came and helped me wash all of the salvaged plastic toys in a bathtub full of a bleach solution. It was an all-day task, and she provided lunch as well. A group of moms {one of whom also flooded} from my children’s school came to help wash, dry, and pack up all the kitchen items I was able to save from the flood water. Another mom from school, who also flooded, came and picked up laundry and brought it all back clean and folded the next day.

One sweet woman who had been volunteering through the Bellaire Recreation Center came to help pack up the majority of my kitchen cabinets. Sadly, I don’t even remember her name. But I will never forget her, and how she treated me like just another one of her friends – as if she was helping me to voluntarily move homes, rather than helping a flood victim, who had no choice but to leave.

Since most schools had been postponed until further notice, I was told about this amazing, free-of-charge, makeshift camp – Camp Hurricane Harvey – that was put together in literally one day by several local Jewish organizations. My youngest child isn’t potty-trained, so she was unable to attend, but my four-year-old went almost every single day it was offered, and he had the time of his life. Among all of the help we received during this crisis, this may have been the most important to me. I worried endlessly how the hurricane was going to affect my very observant and sophisticated son. Childcare was a real problem for flood victims, and this was the most brilliant solution. I will be forever grateful for its existence.

This is My Hurricane Harvey Story, Part 2 :: The Aftermath | Houston Moms Blog

Soon, we started receiving monetary help. We were gifted a private donation from family friends, and a check and several gift cards from our synagogue. I found out later that our synagogue had received donations from all over the country to distribute to its congregants. What a blessing! We also became eligible to apply for grants to help with our children’s school tuition. My husband’s company also set up a fund in which we were able to apply for support. His boss even set up a GoFundMe account for us, and his co-workers have been so unbelievably generous.

I received more calls, texts, and emails from friends and family in one lump sum than any other time in my life. I was horrible with returning them, yet I am still determined to respond to each and every one.

I don’t mention all of this to brag. I mention it because I am completely overwhelmed with the amount of love and support we have received in the face of an otherwise depressing and exhausting situation. To say that my faith in humanity has been restored is an understatement. It means so much to me that I don’t want to ever forget or lose track of how people have helped us. I even began a spreadsheet on my computer so my scattered and tired brain wouldn’t have to store it somewhere that was unreliable. Just like my friend who greeted me in the parking lot of the community center was paying it forward, I plan to do the same one day.

Whenever I would go to the school to pick up my kids, or whenever I would run into someone I know post-flood, I would hear a similar reaction…

“You seem good, considering everything that’s happened to you!”

It’s funny to me because these people only see me for that one millisecond of time and have no idea if my attitude is just me being strong for that brief moment, or if I am, in fact, good. However, my response to them is always the same. And that is that I feel so very fortunate to be in the situation I’m in. Our lives were spared in a natural disaster. We are healthy. We have an exploding amount of love and support from our family, friends, neighbors and members of the community. It’s kind of hard to feel sorry for myself and be depressed when I have so much to be thankful for.

Of course, I have my days when I’m not so bright and cheery; when I feel like the road to recovery is a very slow and long one. And it is. But it’s not as bleak as I expected it to be. My number one purpose in life is to be the best mother to my children and the best wife to my husband, despite any hardships. In fact, Hurricane Harvey has caused me to work even harder on that realm of my life because I have discovered how easily you can forget to pay attention to that little nuclear family unit among all the chaos of putting everything back together.

Once the remediation company completed the entire demo of our first floor, there was nothing left but studs and remnants of cabinets and trim. Everything that was once inside was thrown out in a huge pile of rubble on our front lawn for others to take or eventually end up in a landfill. I decided to keep one single object on the window sill of the kitchen. It’s a very small sign and it says, Love Grows Here. It is my reminder that no matter what has been lost or destroyed, it is all just stuff. It can all be replaced. What is irreplaceable, however, is the love and the memories a family shares within the four walls of a place we call home. It will soon be our home again, where our love will continue to grow forever, and nothing can ever destroy that.

This is My Hurricane Harvey Story, Part 2 :: The Aftermath | Houston Moms Blog


About Emily F. 

Emily is a freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who lives in Houston with her husband, two young children, dog, and cat. When she’s not trying to put food into someone’s mouth, she likes to read, write, cook, and work on her physical fitness. Emily studied Journalism and Psychology at The University of Texas {Hook ’em Horns!}, and she is semi-bilingual, with Spanish as her second language. To read more of her work, visit her web page EmilyBFeinstein.com.

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