Last August 27th, a Sunday morning, the Brays Bayou crested in Houston, Texas as a result of days of record-setting rain from Hurricane Harvey.
My wife Carla’s Aunt Jeanne lives in Houston. She will be 94 this December and had to flee as the flood waters poured into her street, her home, and the homes of her neighbors.
Aunt Jeanne, though, had family nearby. Her grandson called the neighbors and found a house across the alley with a second story. Wading through knee-deep water, Jeanne, her daughter Vicki, her granddaughter Wendy, Wendy’s friend, and 3 dogs evacuated safely. 17 people from the neighborhood found shelter in that house. A few days later, Jeanne moved into Vicki’s house. Jeanne was told her own home could take a year to repair. Most of her possessions, including furniture, old photographs, and memorabilia belonging to her late husband had been saved, and now was in storage. She was one of the lucky ones.
Carla and I had long planned to visit Houston in early October. Despite the hardships, Aunt Jeanne and Vicki insisted we still come, and we did. Jeanne was apologetic about not being able to host us in her home.
It was a lovely visit. She showed us the sights of Houston, local parks, and restaurants, and told story after story about family history up to and including the worst flood Houston had ever seen. She told us about neighbors who became first responders, who went house to house rescuing people and pets and possessions. She told us about groups of volunteers who showed up to take 50 plus years of household items to storage. She told us about the spirit of Houston — “Houston Strong” — people just pitching in to do what needs to be done. She told us about her family and how fortunate she was to have the support she did. When Carla or I would make a comment about how hard it must have been, Aunt Jeanne’s rejoinder was, “So many people had it much worse.”
She was right. This is not a story about heroism and strength of character, although the stories we heard would certainly qualify. This is a story about family, friends, and community and the results of 94 years of living among people who care.
It is also a reminder to those of us working in the world of eldercare that there are limits to what professional services can do. We can have the word “Family” in our name, but we’re not the same as family and friends and community who have lived together and shared the joys and struggles of everyday living, with generations of history behind them.
Baby boomers are aging, families are growing smaller, the number of people living alone continues to rise, and we all are becoming more mobile. I hope that even as this demographic trend continues, we never forget that none of us are totally self-sufficient. We need the ties that bind us to others. We need those ties day in and day out, not just during extraordinary events such as hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, mass shootings, earthquakes, and deadly fires. We may have the ability to pick up the phone and call a wonderful home care agency who will send someone over in a few hours to assist us. But we also need family, friends, and “Houston Strong,” even if we live in New York, Florida, California, or the Pacific Northwest.